Women and Logic in the Middle Ages

“Je ne suis logicienne”, Christine de Pizan tells Pierre Col in a letter written in the early 15th C, and her saying this could be taken as her speaking on behalf of all medieval women: We are not logicians, we do not reason according to the rules of logic, we are not your opponents in debate. Indeed, when one looks to the history of logic in the Middle Ages, there is a marked dearth of women in it.

But Christine is writing with an ironic tone undercutting her words, and it is clear that though she declaims the title of ‘logician’, she is not afraid to dispute rationally with her male interlocutors. Is she the only one? Or are there other women who though they disclaim the label may be doing it for defensive or deflective reasons, rather than really wishing to reject the tools and techniques of logic?

In order to answer such questions, and to provide a complete account of the relationship between women and logic in the Middle Ages, we must first address and answer some more fundamental questions:

What is a logician? Is it someone who writes about logic, or is it someone who uses logic?

What is logic? Is it a set of universally-applicable rules for reasoning, or is it a guide to how to dispute on any topic, with different techniques in different circumstances?

Our premise in this project is that by taking logic in the wider sense of any useful dialectical guidelines and techniques, especially as they related to truth and falsity, validity and invalidity, and looking at not just reflections on but actual use of these techniques, we should not be surprised at all to find medieval women who count as ‘logicians’ in these lights. By widening the scope of ‘logic’ and ‘logician’ in this way, we will be able to uncover an important dimension of the history of logic that has, to date, been wholly overlooked.