Historically the vast majority of famous philosophers have been male. Males are (generally) combative and concerned with attaining status. Can philosophy be separated from the earthly evolutionary imperative to show fitness, mate and breed ?

Can, in the light of evolutionary science, a successful philosophy be seen to be that which aids the breeding success of the philosopher ?

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    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 14:56

4 Answers 4


There are two major flaws with this premise:

1 - There's evidence that philosophy has not been as historically male as is often assumed. The contributions of women philosophers are not greatly celebrated in the historical record, but there are other likely reasons for that than that they did not exist.

2 - Among the philosophers commonly recognized as "great," relatively few have married and/or had children. This argues against philosophy as a breeding strategy. Plato, for example, is the most famous and influential philosopher of the West, and was (as far as we know) childless, and quite possibly celibate.

Anecdotally speaking, there is little to suggest that women find philosophical peacocking sexually attractive. If there is any link between sexual competition and philosophy, it seems more plausible to hypothesize that men impose their competitiveness on the discipline of philosophy than that the practice of philosophy is itself intrinsically an expression of that competition.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; if you like to discuss the content of this answer, you may do so in this chatroom. Comments should only be used to suggest improvements of the post.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 14:59

To the answers in the title, the answer is self-evidently yes.

Human intelligence must be linked in some way to mate selection. But that doesn't just run one way. Cave paintings have been proven to mainly have been done by women. The earliest true technologies, were for drilling beads, followed by sewing and weaving - and weaving can trace a direct lineage to Ada Lovelace creating the first computer program for Babbage's difference engine, inspired by pattern-cards for weaving machines.

The idea that anyone chooses to become a professional philosopher as their best route to success with ladies is, laughable. Can any human activity, male or female, be understood seperate to the evolutionary imperative to show fitness, mate and breed? Probably not, because it defines the creation of our bodies and minds. But we need more. That alone can't explain taking up antinatalism, sacrificing life for ideals, or suicide.

'Success'. Surely as a meme, it has to be defined in terms of replecation of books and advocacy by people, and only then effect on the extended phenotype of those in that wider sphere, in terms of increasing fittedness to niche, augmenting adaptability, and reducing existential risks. It is at that population level, in culture, that philosophy acts, must be be judged and considered.

Kuhn sought to look at scientific developments in practice, rather than science as practioners theorise their practice. That certainly helped create insights, hidden weaknesses using power and authority to delay change, but also revealed hidden strengths like an adaptable community able to evolve itself. We can examine philosophy and philosophical change like this, as a culture of practice. But like science, the benefit is down the line, in physical and social sophistication in societies, not at the level of individual. If you look at the Needham Question, why China invented the cornerstone technologies of the modern age yet it didn't start there, we see this in action. Europe as a continent of warring states far more seperated by geography, allowed a series of countries to get an edge through ideas, and change the worlds intellectual landscape through them.

  • "Have paintings have been proven to mainly have been done by women. " I have not heard this can you point to some evidence ? "The idea that anyone chooses to become a professional philosopher as their best route to success with ladies is, laughable. " Or success with men. But my question really is, if the need for evolutionary fitness is the all encompassing framework by which life is lived then doesn't philosophy have to succeed or fail within this like everything else. So either it promotes fitness or it goes away ? Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 17:37
  • Ada Lovelace sounds interesting Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 18:39
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 23:13
  • But how does this answer that philosophy is only on man's hand? Question in the title involves male pursuit while intelligence is valuable for both sexes.
    – rus9384
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 3:04

From the general viewpoint of Wittgenstein's language-games, all social interaction is related to maintaining status. All of our shared intellectual heritage is about making winning moves in games, having affects on other people by both following and slowly changing rules of interaction. So, then, philosophy does not differ that much from every other intellectual pursuit, in that regard.

But the link between status and breeding is pretty weak. Many of the most highly regarded individuals in a Western Christian society do not breed, or already have their children grown before they take up that status. (To cheat a bit, most popes are both celibate and elderly...)

Beyond that, this perspective is skewed by our traditional choice of how we present philosophy. You see 'male' projective striving because we are looking at recorded and publicly performed philosophy, and formalizing decisions, recording history and performing publicly are prescribed to the male role of boundary maintenance.

What we actually think -- the ideas that get put together into our philosophy -- especially as those ideas come out of religions -- may be strongly controlled by the decisions of women. We present the products of men because men are expected to generate presentable products, not necessarily because the drives pr contributions of men and women are really all that different. We socialize women's products and privatize men's products, to paraphrase Noam Chomsky.

We have noted that it is young women who drive language transformations, adopting them earlier, playing with them more broadly, and ultimately deciding which ones get used in homes and adopted by future generations. But you are not going to see grammatical movements named after women or written about by women throughout most of history. I would argue that historically, philosophy is shaped the same way: in both cases men are rendering explicit decisions largely made in subtle competitions between women that go unrecorded because of their assigned role.

Socrates' attribution of his explicit theories to Diotima was metaphor for a greater reality: many of us really learn to think from the women around us, in a society where men are often called a way to do other things. But the ways that the men we 'put in charge' of thinking communicate to us about thought are more explicit, and involve naming and attribution and stated rules. She was a formative influence on the first major philosopher in the Western canon, but she fails to be seen as any kind of philosopher at all in most traditional approaches to the subject.

Lacan gives a psychoanalytical interpretation that explains why we unconsciously accept this point of view. The Father is the first True Other, the first significant other in our lives of which we have never been an extension and with which we have never shared an unconscious life -- the first person whose interactions with us need to be more explicit and abstract, because they are completely different people from us from the first moment we understand their significance to us. So it is the father's notions and his identity that we more often notice in ourselves and which we render explicit in our lineage, even though most of our mind is constructed by the Mother.

Arguments about patriarchy, violence and force adopted both by traditional virtue philosophers, and derogatorily now by feminists, are overly simplified. They build upon this psychological structure, but they hide female communal power on purpose: the older ones because they are assigned to set its boundary, the newer ones to pretend it never existed. They could never predict the power, for instance, that girls have over language evolution, or that our species' gender ratio represents a history where the genes of females have exerted more control. And that shows that they are not all that useful, in isolation, and need reconsidering.

  • It's interesting that Diotima has traditionally been dismissed as fictional, when there's no more reason to think this of her --other than her gender! --than of many of the lesser-known men mentioned in the dialogs. Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 21:46
  • Just gave this a re-read. Catching the bit about Lacan, an interesting question about how an infant develops a sense of self and who is most influential in that. I'd like to know, given that an infant is (overwhelmingly) going to be in closer contact with the self of the mother than of the father, so the development of a sense of separate self has the mother at its foundations. Though I suppose Lacan may mean the father presents a more alien or disinterested self than the mother. Commented Oct 14, 2018 at 12:29
  • @JimmyWiddle There is a difference between the data that makes up the personality and the model of the self. By observation, children have a very hard time seeing their mothers as having certain aspects of the self, such as self-defense, or the guarding of boundaries, and can be taken very much surprised to encounter them. The child often sees a side of the mother that hides large parts of herself, in that it treats the child as an extension of herself and does not place boundaries where we expect them later. So Lacan looked elsewhere for the source of our modern model of the self.
    – user9166
    Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 18:46

Is philosophy moslty a male pursuit and is it a method to attain status?

No, and this whatever the life form. Philosophy is not a pursuit, nor a method. Per the Greek translation which has stood some 2500+ years philosophy is respect for obtaining empirical verification of what is the case.

Yes, philosophy is distinct from what you describe as, "earthly evolutionary imperative."

Can, in the light of evolutionary science, a successful philosophy be seen to be that which aids the breeding success of the philosopher ?

The use here of the term "philosophy" is simply misnomer. Philosophy is not a way of looking at things or a weltanschauung. Wisdom is not derived from perspective, nor solicitations to agreement with statements of perspective. If philosophy were, then the earth would be flat and you could sail off it.

  • 2
    Firstly, you should not use a definition of philosophy just because it fits your view. Secondly, what you write completely dismisses the well-established argument about the incommensurability of life-worlds: Knowledge and language mutually influence each other, therefore there cannot be a single "correct" description of what is the case, especially in the context of a living and evolving language. There HAS to be a multitude of perspective/description that all involve the "correct" use of language and practical importance. See also Sellars, Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, section 40.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 18:47
  • Reading the Amazon blurb for that - Sellars, Ayer, Russell, Rorty, Hume, Locke, Brandon - all male, good illustration of what I mean. Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 21:12
  • 1
    The root 'sophe' does not in any way imply empiricism. (Or we would not have a separate Greek root for empiricism.)
    – user9166
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 23:41
  • It is simple etymological fact that philosophy translates to love of wisdom. In the context of original utterance, "love" is akin to respect, reverence, or virtue. Wisdom obtains knowledge, it in fact requires knowledge, and knowledge is empirical verification of what is the case - else how do you know what is the case?
    – MmmHmm
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 2:51
  • 1
    @Mr.Kennedy Knowledge is certainly not universally understood to be empirical verification of what is the case. In what way would any part of Plato's notion of forms or any of the contents of, for instance, the Timaeus, be submitted to empirical verification? This etymology simply does not fit the usage to which the word is put. I will not claim to know the original utterance of this ancient Greek word. But I do know that it applied to Plato's work, and your definition simply doesn't.
    – user9166
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 17:56

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