Women and Education:
Discovering the Philosophical Writings of Rahel Varnhagen

Paula Keller (University of Cambridge)

This is a paper about someone who isn’t a philosopher, or so they say. Her name is Rahel Varnhagen: a Jewish salonnière living in Romantic era Berlin. Typically considered a writer and studied by literary scholars for her beautiful prose, her significant philosophical contribution is disregarded. I intervene here: arguing that her contributions to the philosophy of education are worthy of consideration as they are highly original, especially in the context of Romantic philosophy. I show that her writings on women and social hierarchy further amend her philosophy of education and are interesting and relevant in their own right. Rahel Varnhagen’s writings challenge common assumptions of what constitutes philosophical writing. A historian of women philosophers interested in her must therefore simultaneously do meta-philosophy.
Target paper by Paula Keller
Full paper link
Invited Comments from Anne Pollok (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz) – View Document
Invited Comments from Allauren Forbes (McMaster University) – View Document

2 Responses to “Women and Education:
Discovering the Philosophical Writings of Rahel Varnhagen

  • Filipa Melo Lopes
    2 years ago

    Thanks for a really interesting paper, Paula!

    One thing that caught my attention in the quote that you start with was Varnhagen’s use of the term ‘frivolity’. It seems like she is using it in two ways and saying two different things here. On one hand, frivolity is used ideologically as a derogatory term to ‘keep women in line’, as you mention later in the paper. On the other hand, women’s restricted circumstances do lead them to be more frivolous, according to Varnhagen. I was wondering whether this is a plausible reading, in light of her other writings.
    If so, what she says seems to bear interesting similarities to a feminist tradition of criticizing women’s distorted or weakened character and the patriarchal social arrangements that cause it. I am thinking in particular of Mary Wollstonecraft, who engaged explicitly with women’s education and was highly critical of women’s ‘frivolous’ behavior.

  • Sonia Roca-Royes
    2 years ago

    Thank you for your thoughts! I’m very much looking forward to the discussion.
    I’m intrigued about the remarks on solidarity. Keller writes that, for Varnhagen, “female solidarity enables one to find pride in one’s social position”, and that it’s unclear “whether this pride will then enable emancipation or whether it is an end in itself”. If I understand Forbes’ comments on this, this pride might actually be the seed of social change. To me, however, the idea of pride in one’s social (unequal) position evokes a risk of conformism, even resignation.

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