Philosophy & Gender

Does philosophy have a gender?

Interestingly enough, this depends on what one believes about knowledge.  Throughout history, many in the field felt that abstract reasoning and logic had no relationship with gender.  Truths could be revealed and everyone who used the correct methods and the correct information would get correct answers.

This way of looking at it made it both better and worse for women because it meant that learning philosophy written by men would not be a waste of women’s timeee but it also meant that women’s ways of thinking and doing things were not considered to have anything of exceptional or particular philosophical value.  This meant that any female who received the training and used her mind correctly would be reliably able to do philosophy and it also meant that if she noticed any kind of ‘gender bias’ in the field she could be accused of having just imagined it or of suffering from some flaw or fault – possibly due to her gender.

Over thousands of years, women have now and then at least been able to contribute to the field, often by teaching or assisting.  In many nations there were major setbacks and lots of confusion regarding what information women had and what they (we) did with it and what men knew and how they handled that information.

In many cultures religion and philosophy were inseparable for centuries, including in Europe due to censorship and the religions of the governments in which work was done.

By the end of the 20th century, women and men worked together well enough that women came up with new books and articles outlining the most noteworthy philosophically active women of Europe and North America.  While it was intimidating that it was harder to find as many brilliant female philosophers as men it was also encouraging that there were women who managed to do something that has survived to this day.

Cultures in which the female people received better education and opportunities show the greatest rise in female activity within the field of higher quality.  In the 20th century the prominent female philosopheresses (British English / old fashioned English) were:  Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Carol Gilligan, Luce Irigaray and Ayn Rand.  The first was a Jewish woman when there was drama about that in Eruope, 2 were French and 2 were Americans.  Ayn Rand was a rich conservative who worked more outside of academia whereas Hannah Arendt and Simone de Beauvoir were the most ‘respectable within academic circles’ during their lives.

Does it matter?

Simone and Luce – French women, did at least some writing in philosophy specifically about women and gender.  They broke one of the sad molds from the male philosophers of being insulting about women at best.  Some of it was outright hostility and some of it was nothing more than male environments in which men are right to tell each other to not be women instead of men.

There were relationships between class, and civil rights conditions in time and place that had an intimate bearing on who was able to do what.  In the case of women, better conditions did tend to yield better results.  The ability to do extraordinarily well in philosophy is uncommon in both genders but to be able t learn logic as well as math is something that everyone can do with proper education – whether done privately or at a public school.

Ayn Rand’s Objectivism has virtually nothing to do with gender at all, but as a person and thinker she was of course affected by being a woman.  Much of the work done by both women and men in philosophy has no clear nor direct relationship to gender or gender issues.

For those who feel effected or like their gender is important to their thinking then some reading of philosophical works involving gender and about gender differences would probably be valuable and helpful whether a man or a woman.  For those teaching in the field one may well get both types of students and well educated is better prepared to adeptly address student questions or problems.










Ken Wilber & His Philosophy

2000 words

Ken Wilber & His Philosophy

by Miriam Pia

Ken Wilber is one of the dominant and ‘game changing’ American philosophers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. His work broke with the status quo of academic philosophies of both the West and the East. Because of that, his work, although famous outside of most Western philosophy based universities has not become popular or frequently taught within them. The one place he is best known for having taught is in fact the first established Buddhist based university in the United States of America, the Naropa Institute in Colorado. As it happens Boulder, Colorado with the Rocky Mountains does mimic some of the basic underlying type of geography as the Tibetan culture and philosophy which came into being in the snowy Himalayan Mountains.

What makes Ken Wilber’s Philosophy so different?

Epistemology is the area of philosophy devoted to figuring out and clarifying what knowledge is, since only by knowing what knowledge is can we – as individuals and as the human race, know what to be sure of as being truth and what remains ignorance of one kind or another.

There are clear traditions of ideas and beliefs about what the truth is and how to determine it in both Western and Eastern philosophical traditions. The main radical measure that Ken Wilber takes in his ‘integral philosophy’ is that he reviews the Western tradition and makes a new organized schema. For many in the Western tradition, to borrow from the philosophy of science of the 1980s, Wilber’s Integral Philosophical system creates a new paradigm. He does this by showing how much of what was argued over in terms of their relation to truth in terms of priority and hierarchy in the preceding 300 years of philosophical tradition can be couched into new language and put together into a new schema without denying any of them.

The main schools of thought in the Western tradition about truth and knowledge are:

Idealism: Plato and Kant, and later Hegel and other German idealists. These posit that truth can be learned through mental operations and that abstract thinking can lead to real world results because of 2 factors: 1 is that much of truth and the ability to perceive it is built right into the human mind, and that 2 logic and mathematics and proper philosophical inquiry, and later also scientific research methods also yield real and legitimate results.

Plato argued that the truth of things is right in the perception of them within a realm seen as the human mind or perceivable by the mind. The main example is what has come to be known as ‘the principle of the thing’, where Plato taught that the principle of any object was real as an idea or ideal and that if anything, things took shape from the reality of the realm of ideas more than the other way around.

Kant explained that some of what is true shows up right in the mind – these are a priori ideas, which are true of the human mind and indicate what is true about the world. Kant read Plato and Aristotle and knew at least some Christianity, and possibly knew post-Judaic Christianity (after the Council of Nicea people could become Christian without having to convert to Judaism) very well.

From then up to the present there have been schools of thought which developed out of believing that idealism is true, believing in idealism in a limited way, and running counter to idealism. In the ancient world, Plato came right before Aristotle but unlike Plato Aristotle was not an idealist. He thought Plato’s theory of forms was wrong and went around cataloging species of life forms for Emperor Alexander. Aristotle is considered a proto empirical scientist of the Western world. Aristotle believed very strongly in the world as being real and as existing without dependency upon any human mind for its existence, but did view human perception as having some kind of reality.

The development of the empirical sciences and scientific method during the previous 3 centuries, although there were scientific and technological breakthroughs going back thousands of years before the advent of modern science: in Western cultures was directly related to accepting Kant’s idea that part of what is real and some of the truth that can be perceived has to do with the human mind and the ability to think and the rest of it has to do with the outside world. Hence, by relating to the world of sensory experience the right way, and by thinking the right way, humans have a good chance of learning the truth. Theories are the closest to the truth that can be reached given careful examination of the evidence found in the world with lots of help from excellent thinking with a human mind.

Ken Wilber notes early on in the description of his own philosophy the matter of how much the empirical sciences seem to award truth value to the outside world but none to the subjective experience of people. Not only that, claims Ken Wilber, but scientific theories also seem to dismiss society in determining what is true or not. One Continental Philosopher of the 20th century who emphasized the effect of society and in society was Michele Foucault, who’s writings were mainly interdisciplinary. The French tendency to post modernism which Wilber is also aware of, developed with existentialism as a mostly idealist, atheist philosophical movement of the 20th century.

Integral Theory & Truth Quadrants

In Ken Wilber’s integral theory, KW recognizes 4 types of truth which he posits exist for every individual. One, if the subjective realm. This does contain Plato’s world of forms and Kant’s a priori concepts, but also contains everything from logic to dreams and emotions, hopes and fears of individuals. Personal truths about the self and one’s point of view and so on, can all exist in this realm.

Another quadrant of truth, according to integral theory, is the truth about the world, more familial to people as involving a world of sense objects and social relations that exist regardless of human perception but that humans may be able to perceive the truth about.

Wilber’s integral philosophy contains two quadrants which are simultaneously private but also external and existing in a shared realm with other people and other creatures. One of the two is the external world from the perspective of an individual and the other is more the mass scale social scene.

Steps & Stages: Spirituality & Buddhist influences

In actual practice, one of the main differences between Ken Wilber and most of the traditional Western philosophers is that KW learned to meditate within the blended context of Buddhism in Colorado and the more general cultural context of the Rocky Mountains, Christianity – mostly Protestantism, Hippies and Chogyam Chungpa/ Trungpa – who was the first major Buddhist lama (and really a ‘bad boy’ as lamas go) who trekked to North America and introduced Dharma and founded the Naropa Institute when KW was a young boy in the region.

Because KW did bother to learn to meditate, and turned out to be very good at it, he included in his philosophy 4 major states or types of consciousness which in Western philosophical tradition go predominantly unmentioned. Here and there someone refers to imagination and dream states in Western philosophy but normally not in a well organized manner.

How it proceeds

The bulk of Ken Wilber’s philosophical writings explain how he sees his theory functioning within individuals and societal groups. It includes a history and philosophy of human development that goes from the rudimentary and biological up to the spiritual. Through the descriptions, he teaches readers and followers how to get some idea of which levels they are operating on as individuals and then, by knowing where they are, shows them how they might reach subsequent levels. In that respect KW’s philosophical works are infused with inspiration and hope as they are designed to enable readers and followers to really do something in their own lives with the philosophy rather than it being one of the types of philosophical treatises that is full of explanation and description but for readers has no direct, practical value beyond maybe being able to understand why research exists and what it is like when it makes sense.

How it fits in

Beyond what has already been explained, Ken Wilber’s thought has been enigmatic and profound in that it is not a simple rehash of what has been done in the past and yet it really does break with tradition without just destroying tradition.

As an individual, Ken Wilber is someone who was able to become well known and well liked and to fit in in those senses but he has always stood out from the crowd in part due to being exceptionally tall and thin but also due to being a brilliant man who boldly did something like study Plato but also learn to meditate and not run away nor hide from what he learned by doing so.

By reputation, Ken Wilber has become a well known American philosopher despite being regularly ignored by academic philosophy and philosophers because he is 1) an odd ball, and 2) they weren’t responsible for his success and don’t know him and may feel put out that he is a great philosopher out of nowhere rather than after having carefully ensconced in academic philosophy for at least a decade and showing up as a little bit important by contributing the American analytical philosophical tradition with a new treatise on computer logic and the implications for hospital ethics in the 21st century or something ‘normal’ and ‘expected’ like that. Instead, integral theory has grown into a diverse set of organizations that surround sales of Ken Wilber books and workshops. The philosophy has been picked up and partially learned and bandied about as much by corporate coaches as by academic philosophers.

Personally, I think it is not worth denying that despite the ill fit with the majority trends in the American analytic philosophical tradition early in the 21st century, Ken Wilber really is one the best American philosophers certainly of his generation and quite possibly for the century for the Americans.

In truth, to give perspective another way, he is more the spiritual and philosophical son or descendant of the Englishman Alan Watts who was a British philosopher who was one of the first of the 20th century Western thinkers to attempt to engage with Asiatic and Buddhist philosophy. Their 19th century predecessor was actually Friedrich Nietzsche and Louise Andreas-Salome (maybe J. Ree) who tried to go beyond the limits of what they had learned from the ancient Greeks and their philosophical forebears in a decidedly Christian European and North American world.

In that respect, it is proper to understand these thinkers as trying to be more worldly, and cutting edge and inclusive in the scope of their philosophical endeavors, thoughts and trying to write for what Thomas S. Kuhn (philosophy of science 1980s) called a new paradigm.


Ken Wilber’s philosophy is far from useless but really is best understood in the context of trying to bridge Western and Eastern thought, but also trying to push forward with Western consciousness, and draw new conclusions about the debate about which takes philosophical precedence about truth: self, world, a priori ideas or logic?

In general, idealism faded during the 20th century but did not entirely disappear. American and British philosophy became more analytic and atheistic. Continental philosophy became more atheistic but also more interdisciplinary and some forms of idealism persisted but were changed as their context switched from empirical sciences and math over to areas such as music, art criticism and so on. The women’s movements as part of the continuing saga of human civil rights was also involved and showed up because French women existentialists on the Continent and radicals – like Ayn Rand, who was as free standing in her philosophical efforts as Ken Wilber but being a woman, and a conservative, unlike Ken Wilber she was able to do it in part thanks to the funding from her husband while living as a wife.

It may take some decades before universities figure out the best way to place the work of Ken Wilber in relation to the canon for the philosophy curriculum, but already, Ken Wilber has made himself into a prominent American philosopher. Not everyone will agree with him and that one point makes Ken Wilber just like every other great philosopher who has ever walked the Earth.

Sharbenau the Squirrel

Juvenile Fiction
“Sharbenau the Squirrel”By Miriam Pia
*Its about a small mammal who is unusually spiritual
This anthology is a fund raiser for the Cardio Dept of a Children’s Hospital.

             Sharbenau realized at some point that he was not like the other squirrels in a few ways. In most regards he was a normal squirrel. He grew at the same pace, he liked most of the same foods, his tail was bushy the same as all the others. His temperament was also not that different from many of the others of his tribe.  

           Sharbenau lived in a large colony of squirrels. They had 3 tribes, 2 of these had 15 families and the other tribe had 9 families in it. The older ones taught the young ones how to live and do well in the forest that they lived in.  Like it or not, it became clear that some of the older squirrels seemed to ‘do better’ than the others.  

           There were times that made Sharbenau very sad. When he was young this happened the most when he saw another get injured or sick.  He hated to witness their suffering but did not want to turn away from them – he knew that would make him appear cold hearted when he was not. Well, that problem won a lot of Sharbenau’s attention for quite a time.  

         Once, when another squirrel was hurt, he tried to help it. Partly, he just gave the other animal comfort and somehow – he wasn’t even sure how; he tried to change things.He tried to help the other heal.  Sharbenau wasn’t sure it did any good but then his grandmother mentioned it to him once. She complimented him. She told him, “Now little one, that was very creative and quite kind. This is a very rare thing, but it is something that you should feel good about, rather than bad about.”      

         Sharebenau thought that his grandmother meant well but was a little strange. The thing is, because she had been kind to him when he was feeling a bit sad or lonely or something – he remembered the incident. The squirrel children found that they often had enough time to play and to have fun as well as having time to learn how to take care of themselves and one another.  Most of the time, they were told to stay home when it was dark.  The real reason for this was to protect them from danger.  There were other animals. The way that they saw things made it harder for the squirrels to identify danger during the dark time.  It made it easier for them to make the young stay close during these times.   Sharbenau felt this made sense and didn’t fight it. He was actually a very well behaved child squirrel. Most were, but a few of them seemed different. Over what felt like a very long time, he noticed what happened to the different individuals depending on what they did.  There seemed to be 2 main effects amongst the more adventurous squirrels. Some had sad fates: they were often injured and many died young in tragedies.

       Others had happy fates. It seemed they were blessed with great energy and talents andadept at surviving. So, Sharbenau developed a new understanding of that type of squirrel.  Even so, he did not stray far from his elders. It did not seem to be his nature to disobey or to go against sound advice.
       One day, when Sharbenau was out climbing a tree in an area where he was allowed he had a most unusual experience. A large crow, at least twice his own size,came near enough to him – they looked each other in the eye. The bird lowered its head and moved it towards the squirrel slowly. Sharbenau saw this large, sharp, dangerous beak coming at him but for some reason he did not feel the usual fear and he did not skitter away. Suddenly, he reached out one of his front paws, and tapped the bird on the beak.Well, after that happened, both of them panicked. The squirrel pulled back his hand very suddenly. The bird jerked back its head; this had never happened before! The bird cawed. The squirrel was terrified by the giant dangerous open mouth and horrible sound. Sharbenau began screaming and scampered along a few branches and fled tsafety. There he panted, calmed down, resumed his daily life. The experience stayed with him. Because he remembered it so well, he felt it might have deep meaning.  
       After his experience with the crow, Sharbenau tried helping others when one was hurt or injured. He did not do this every time no matter who it was, but he tried it. Over time, the others started to talking amongst themselves about it. They were starting tthink that he might have some kind of power to help them. They wondered if it woulwork if they tried the same things – if it worked the same way that their elders could show them how to find food and what to eat. They also wondered if maybe it was Sharbenau. 
       One day Sharbenau was out on an excursion. He was feeling more mature and quite proud because he was off on his own again. In truth, he had not gone far from home. He found a berry bush. He was joyful because he found his own meal without help for the first time in a long time. On this special occasion Sharbenau brought a small amount of the branch with him.Some time after that: it seemed like a long time, but it may have been two weeks,Sharbenau was with a squirrel who was not feeling well. Spontaneously, Sharbenau tapped the other squirrel with the berry branch, shouted 3 times, and danced around for half a minute. Then, just as suddenly, he just stopped. He suddenly felt embarrassed. He looked at the other squirrel, and found that the other was smiling at him. Sharbenau felt the fur on his tail fluff up. He pulled his tail in and around. Then quickly, Sharbenau found a way to just leave.
       Later, just 2 days later, there was a new sight. Sharbenau was at the nearest stream to get water. He saw the squirrel he had danced around and touched with the branch. The other’s health seemed much improved. Sharbenau the squirrel just watched silently from the shade. He was beginning to wonder if he had some kind of power after all, and wasn’t just imagining it.
        In reality, the other squirrels in the tribe really noticed that one. It seemed to all of them that Sharbenau had helped the other squirrel heal.Everyone began to watch Sharbenau a bit more, to observe whether or not anything else ‘surprising’ or ‘amazing’ might happen. At first this made Sharbenau very uncomfortable. Then, he realized that he could use it as encouragement to try things sometimes. So, after that he was more likely to follow through on his ideas about healing, or figuring things out. Now it seemed that if he did anything peculiar the other squirrels would also say, “Well, that’s Sharbenau. That’s why.”
        One day, Sharbenau was out – again, he was just a little bit apart from the rest of his group. He had not really left the group, or anything like that. He was on the side of tree one day, head down on a large oak tree when another of these ‘strange events’ took  place. Sharbenau felt the presence of another life form. It was a large creature, very large. The smell of it was noticeable but not unpleasant. He did not know what type of creature it was from the smell. There was the sound of movement, but the entity moved slowly. Sharbenau decided to keep still. He looked down. He looked at his front paws and felt the strong grip that he had on the thick oak bark. This was a very stable situation from what he could tell. Again, the large creature moved. This time, Sharbenau could look and see some part of it on the ground. It was like nothing he had ever seen before. He flitted his tail tand fro. He sniffed the light breeze. There was more motion. Sharbenau knew that he was taking quite a risk by not running off. He had a curious sensation in both his body and his mind.  This time, another large portion of the creature came into view. It turned out that it really was gigantic compared to a squirrel but Sharbenau still thought it was much smaller than the tree he was on. Still, although his tail trembled slightly, Sharbenau did not snicker and he did not run. What happened was that the creature began to make noises; when Sharbenau still did not run, there was a minor miracle when the creature touched him without causing any harm. Sharbenau was not sure how to react. He was quite pleased but not sure why – probably simply because this type of event had never occurred before and might not ever happen again. The entire experience lasted just a few minutes. Then the large creature made a different set of sounds and started to move quickly. The squirrel felt a new type of pressure on his back and then he suddenly scrambled forward, down and then around and away from the strange creature. He went up much higher and away. In fact,Sharbenau never looked back.
      He told the other squirrels of his tribe about it. Well, they talked it about so much that the old ones heard about it. Eventually, grandmother squirrel told 2 of them that she thought the creature he had seen and that had touched him, might have been a human being.
         From that moment on, no one treated Sharbenau the way they had before.It was strange because the change was somehow subtle but in other respects obvious. Sharbenau wasn’t exactly sure what it was. Neither were the others, but it was something and they all knew it. After a long time, the squirrels developed a word for it,and they started to call Sharbenau a shaman. Slowly, they tried to share this information with the other tribes. 
        Sharbenau himself felt a bit peculiar. After all, he was only trying to be himself;he was just this squirrel. He loved his family, he liked a lot of his life and he enjoyed the tribal lifestyle. For some reason he was a bit different from the others. He even worried about whether or not he would ever cure someone with the berry stick again – after it had worked the one time.
       The most amazing thing, was twofold. First, when Sharbenau returned to the tree where he had met the giant creature the one day, he sometimes found offerings. The other astounding fact is that for the first time in history, a human being realized – but didn’t understand why this idea occurred, that animals might have their own medicine people.