Maarten Maartensz:    Philosophical Dictionary | Filosofisch Woordenboek                      

 X - Xantippe


Xantippe: The wife of Socrates, supposedly a formidable scold.

In fact, little is known about Socrates's wife, except that indeed he was married, had two sons, who were, compared to him, judged to be quite disappointing by their contemporaries, and that Socrates's wife - unless she was herself very extra-ordinary - indeed cannot have had much reason to be fond of her husband, since he was always poor; hardly any good in the conventional male role of a provider and money-maker; more interested in clever and handsome boys than in her; a well-known dissident in Athens; while he ended up in old age, after a life of poverty filled with argument and dissidence, with a judicial conviction of forced suicide because of his supposed opinions.

Perhaps it makes sense to say here something about the wives of philosophers, and start with quoting Nietzsche, who wrote somewhere, in English translation, in his often hyperbolic way: "A married philosopher is an insanity!". And indeed, Nietzsche never married (though he might have, if Lou Salomé had wanted him, while he also happened to die both unmarried and insane).

Now, first, it seems true that significantly fewer famous philosophers were married, compared to men in general, or intellectual men in particular.

Incidentally, but somewhat relevantly, I think it is fair to remark that there have been no first-class female philosophers, unless one includes Hypatia, about whom little is known, and possibly some medieval female mystics, like St. Teresa or Hildegard of Bingen.

Why this would be so is difficult to say. I do not believe it is because women are, on average, less intelligent than men, since I do not believe this, and I also do not believe that it is due to the fact that women are, on average, less concerned with abstract matters, which does explain why there are not many first-class female mathematicians (though there have been some, notably Kowaleska and Noether). One good albeit partial explanation may be that women tend to be more practical than men.

To return to the question why famous philosophers tend not to have married. One reason may be that quite a few were homosexuals (Plato, Broad, Wittgenstein) or monks (Abélard, Aquinas, Ockham). Excluding both groups, it still seems true that heterosexual non-monkish philosophers tend to marry far less often than more ordinary men, including male scientists.

An important set of related reasons seems to be that they tend to be difficult persons, who oppose much in their society, and do not care for ordinary careers, and are obviously not made from what makes a man into a good provider, father and husband, and also tend to be very demanding in what they require from women they do consort with.

Hence, and second, the wives or female friends of philosophers - I mean: serious philosophers, rather than the ordinary academic kind, who are not so much philosophers as historians of ideas and commentators on philosophical texts - must be rather special to succeed as wives or friends: Uncommonly intelligent; at least sympathetic to philosophy yet much more practical than their men; willing and capable to be a social outcast; not interested in an ordinary averagely successful intelligent males (such as professors of Business Science or such); and less interested in an ordinary family than in an extra-ordinary husband or male friend.

Therefore, it seems, since such women are rare and not easy to find, serious philosophers tend not to marry - and another reason for this (which they share with serious scientists, mathematicians and artists) is that for serious philosophers their philosophy comes first, which also is a position a loving wife or female friend tends to envy and deplore.

See also: Feminism, Socrates


Gruber,  Plato, Xenophon

 Original: Mar 9, 2005                                                Last edited: 12 December 2011.   Top