Researchers ensure women aren’t ‘left out’ of modern philosophical thought

In the world of modern philosophy, many people might think of names such as Descartes and Spinoza.

Professor Genevieve Migely and Noah Stern ’18, however, explored the thoughts and words from an entirely different group of philosophers over the summer.

“We studied women philosophers in the Modern Period of philosophy, which is roughly, 1600 to 1800 CE,” Migely said. “The deal is they’ve been left out of the canon of modern philosophical thought.”

Stern called the women philosophers “brave” for challenging traditional beliefs at the time, especially revolving around the church. He focused much of his time during the Cornell Summer Research Institute studying Margaret Cavendish.

“In the 1600s where the church is law, the church is philosophy, it’s theology, it’s science, Cavendish takes her natural philosophy and separates it, entirely, from God,” Stern said.

Migely plans to incorporate their research findings into her lessons to stop silencing the modern women philosophers. She said they both learned a lot during the 10-week research process.

“This was great as a philosophy professor to have had a student who was interested in spending 10 weeks digging through really, really old text,” Migely said. “We are not researchers in the sense that we were sitting in a lab or out in the field collecting data. It was a strong, devoted task to just delve into really difficult, intense abstract work, and it was really rewarding for both of us.”

“I chose to come to Cornell, in part, because I like to fixate on a topic until I think that I get what I’m going to get what I get out of it,” Stern said. “Then, I like to continue on with it, but switch my focus from topic to topic. At a place where you get three and a half weeks of intensive study, it’s perfect. CSRI was 10 weeks of that. It’s a longer, intensive program.”

The philosophy major who has studied the topic since high school said he’s had most of his best philosophy experiences with the faculty at Cornell.

“If I was talking to someone interested in philosophy, I’d say if you want to be spoon-fed everything you want to know, go to a different college,” Stern said. “If you want to actually think and have a good time reading and studying—and read a lot—Cornell is the place to be.”