The XX Factor

Charles Murray Stands by His Claim That There Have Been No Significant Female Philosophers

Martha Nussbaum, female philosopher.
Martha Nussbaum, female philosopher

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve and Coming Apart: The State of White America and a “white nationalist” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, has been in the news lately because Republican politicians like Greg Abbott, who is running for governor against Wendy Davis in Texas, and Paul Ryan like citing him as an expert on things like education and economics. On Tuesday, however, audiences at the University of Texas at Austin had the pleasure of hearing Murray’s half-baked theories regarding the limits of the female intellect. 

Murray was on campus, disturbingly, as counterprogramming to the Civil Rights Summit happening elsewhere at the school. As reported by Joe Deshotel of the Burnt Orange Report, during Murray’s talk, a woman got up and asked him about a 2005 piece he wrote arguing that women are, as a group, innately less capable of abstract thought than men. She specifically asked him about his statement that “no woman has been a significant original thinker in any of the world’s great philosophical traditions.”

In answering, Murray dithered condescendingly for a bit but eventually coughed up the money quote, saying, “Until somebody gives me evidence to the contrary, yeah, I’ll stick with that statement.” Here, listen for yourselves:

“Here are some female philosophers that even Murray has to recognize as being a Big Deal,” my friend Lindsay Beyerstein, who went to grad school for philosophy, told me, citing off the top of her head: Hannah Arendt, Elizabeth AnscombeRuth Barcan Marcus, and Martha Nussbaum. The exercise of coming up with a list of important female philosophers is so easy, in fact, that even Camille Paglia came up with 10 of them.

Of course, Murray did set a trap for anyone who actually thinks it would be useful to counter him with a list of female philosophers by saying that they have to be “original” thinkers. If you know how the game is played, you’ll know that if you start listing philosophers, Murray or any of his defenders will just muse about whether their work is wholly “original,” since said women likely have read other philosophers—most of whom are male by virtue of women being squeezed out of educational opportunities and platforms to express their thoughts throughout most of history.