For an era finally starting to reflect on the historical marginalization of women in philosophy, Bertrand Russell should be an enigma. On the one hand, Russell constructively engaged with a host of female philosophers like Dorothy Wrinch, Victoria Welby, and Susan Stebbing. He wrote pioneering work on issues of interest to modern feminism, often in close collaboration with some feminist pathbreakers with whom he was either personally or professionally involved (such as Dora Black Russell). What is more, he long supported women’s suffrage, and could be counted on as an ally in many political causes important to women.
But on the other, Russell’s advocacy of sexual freedom, though often done under the guise of women’s rights, shaded into personal relationships with women that have long been a source of concern, even outrage. He has been called “a formidable philanderer” (by a respected Russell scholar, 1992), “a notorious philanderer” (in a critical biography that was itself notorious in its harsh portrayal of Russell, 2000), and even a “sexual predator” (by a Pulitzer Prize winner in the New Yorker, 2002).
This workshop aims to reexamine Russell’s complicated relationship to women and to the emergence of modern feminism. Philosophy is now enjoying a surge of feminist writing; but it is also wrestling with some of the lowest rates of advancement for women in all of the humanities. And so Russell’s historical impact should be of special relevance right now. He was a founding father of analytic philosophy, and an important collaborator and supporter of some founding mothers of this school as well. But his influence on the women around him (and their influence on him) was anything but straightforward, and the time is ripe for a more wide-ranging evaluation than has yet been attempted.
EVENT DATE: 5-6 March 2021
LOCATION: McMaster University / Bertrand Russell Research Centre / Online