Food for Thought
Emily Brontë – Philosopher
Tim Madigan philosophizes poetically.
Enough of Thought, Philosopher;
Too long hast thou been dreaming
Unlightened, in this chamber drear –
While summer’s sun is beaming –
Space-sweeping soul, what sad refrain
Concludes thy musings once again?
– Emily Brontë (1818-1848), ‘The Philosopher’
As one who has spent many a summer’s day reading philosophy in ‘chambers drear’, I can empathize with Emily Brontë’s poem. For several years now I have made use of her poetry when teaching Introduction to Philosophy classes, in order to show that some of the deepest issues in this discipline can best be expressed in non-prosaic terms.
One of the questions we consider in class is why there have been so few female philosophers until fairly recent times. We first read Plato’s arguments in The Republic as to why there cannot be a truly just society until all citizens, both male and female, are given equal opportunity to excel; then we study Aristotle’s rejoinder that such a policy would be folly, since women are by nature inferior to men, intellectually and physically. This point is reiterated later in the course by selections from the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, a vociferous misogynist, who argued that women were really just big children, unable to understand abstract thought.