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Cavendish, Margaret, , . Observations upon experimental philosophy to which is added The description of a new blazing world / written by the thrice noble, illustrious, and excellent princesse, the Duchess of Newcastle.
2001, Edited by E. O’Neill. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy).
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Publisher’s Note: Margaret Cavendish’s 1668 edition of Observations upon Experimental Philosophy, presented here in its first modern edition, holds a unique position in early modern philosophy. Cavendish rejects the Aristotelianism which was taught in the universities in the seventeenth century, and the picture of nature as a grand machine which was propounded by Hobbes, Descartes and members of the Royal Society of London, such as Boyle. She also rejects the views of nature which make reference to immaterial spirits. Instead she develops an original system of organicist materialism, and draws on the doctrines of ancient Stoicism to attack the tenets of seventeenth-century mechanical philosophy. Her treatise is a document of major importance in the history of women’s contributions to philosophy and science.

Comment: In this work, Cavendish argues against the experimental paradigm of the emerging Royal Society, contrasting their conception of passive, dead matter, with her own conception of vital materialism. This text will prove useful in conjunction with discussions of experiment and epistemology in early modern philosophy. Usefully paired with other philosophers like Boyle, Descartes, and Henry More, as well as scientists like William Harvey.

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Detlefsen, Karen, , . Custom Freedom and Equality: Mary Astell on marriage and women’s education
2016, In Penny Weiss & Alice Sowaal (eds.), Feminist Interpretations of Mary Astell. Pennsylvania State University Press, 74-92.
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Abstract: Whatever may be said about contemporary feminists’ evaluation of Descartes’ role in the history of feminism, Mary Astell herself believed that Descartes’ philosophy held tremendous promise for women. His urging all people to eschew the tyranny of custom and authority in order to uncover the knowledge that could be found in each one of our unsexed souls potentially offered women a great deal of intellectual and personal freedom and power. Certainly Astell often read Descartes in this way, and Astell herself has been interpreted as a feminist – indeed, as the first English feminist. But a close look at Astell’s and Descartes’ theories of reason, and the role of authority in knowledge formation as well as in their philosophies of education, show that there are subtle yet crucial divergences in their thought – divergences which force us to temper our evaluation of Astell as a feminist. My first task is to evaluate Astell’s views on custom and authority in knowledge formation and education by comparing her ideas with those of Descartes. While it is true that Astell seems to share Descartes’ wariness of custom and authority, a careful reading of her work shows that the wariness extends only as far as the tyranny of custom over individual intellectual development. It does not extend to a wariness about social and institutional customs and authority (including, perhaps most crucially, the institution of marriage as we see in her Reflection on Marriage). The reason for this is that Astell’s driving goal is to help women to come to know God’s plan for women – both in their roles as human and in their roles as women. According to Astell, while it is true that, as individuals, women must develop their rational capacities to the fullest in order to honor God and his plan for women as human, as members of social institutions, including the institution of marriage, women must subordinate themselves to men, including their husbands, in this case so as to honor God and his plan for women as women. Once we understand the theological underpinnings of her equivocal reaction to authority and custom, we can see that Astell may be considered a feminist in a very tempered way. My second task is to use these initial conclusions to re-read her proposal for single-sexed education that we find in A Serious Proposal to the Ladies. It is true that Astell encourages women to join single-sexed educational institutions for the unique and empowering friendships that women can develop in such institutions. Still, my argument continues, the development of such friendships is not entirely an end in itself. Rather, Astell encourages women to develop such friendships such that they can re-enter the broader world armed with the tools that will help them endure burdensome features of the lives that await them in the world, including their lives as subordinated wives – burdens that Astell does not, in principle, challenge.

Comment: This is a useful paper for understanding how an early modern woman (Astell) understood the implications of Descartes’ work for women, on the subject of marriage. It would be very useful in undergraduate courses that explore the social implications of early modern philosophy, as well as more advanced courses on early modern philosophy more generally.

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Detlefsen, Karen, , . Reason and Freedom: Margaret Cavendish on the order and disorder of nature
2007, Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 89(2): 157-191.
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Abstract: According to Margaret Cavendish the entire natural world is essentially rational such that everything thinks in some way or another. In this paper, I examine why Cavendish would believe that the natural world is ubiquitously rational, arguing against the usual account, which holds that she does so in order to account for the orderly production of very complex phenomena (e.g. living beings) given the limits of the mechanical philosophy. Rather, I argue, she attributes ubiquitous rationality to the natural world in order to ground a theory of the ubiquitous freedom of nature, which in turn accounts for both the world’s orderly and disorderly behavior.

Comment: This article examines Cavendish’s concept of order and disorder in nature, and will prove a useful complement to advanced courses in early modern thought. Usefully paired with Cavendish’s works, but also those of Descartes, Malebranche, etc.

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Rogers, Dorothy, , . America’s First Women Philosophers
2005, Bloomsbury.
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Publisher’s Note: The American idealist movement started in St. Louis, Missouri in 1858, becoming more influential as women joined and influenced its development. Susan Elizabeth Blow was well known as an educator and pedagogical theorist who founded the first public kindergarten program in America (1873-1884). Anna C. Brackett was a feminist and pedagogical theorist and the first female principal of a secondary school (St. Louis Normal School, 1863-72). Grace C. Bibb was a feminist literary critic and the first female dean at the University of Missouri, Columbia (1878-84). American idealism took on a new form in the 1880s with the founding of the Concord School of Philosophy in Massachusetts. Ellen M. Mitchell participated in the movement in both St. Louis and Concord. She was one of the first women to teach philosophy at a co-educational college (University of Denver, 1890-92). Lucia Ames Mead, Marietta Kies, and Eliza Sunderland joined the movement in Concord. Lucia Ames Mead became a chief pacifist theorist in the early twentieth century. Kies and Sunderland were among the first women to earn the Ph.D. in philosophy (University of Michigan, 1891, 1892). Kies wrote on political altruism and shared with Mitchell the distinction of teaching at a coeducational institution (Butler College, 1896-99). These were the first American women as a group to plunge into philosophy proper, bridging those years between the amateur, paraprofessional and professional academic philosopher. Dorothy Rogers’s new book at last gives them the attention they deserve.

Comment: A book covering many US 19th-century women philosophers, mostly influenced by Hegel to some extent. Could be used as supplementary reading on a history of philosophy course if it covers the nineteenth century, so that students are aware there were women active in philosophy then.

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Rogers, Dorothy, , . The Other Philosophy Club: America’s First Academic Women Philosophers
2009, Hypatia 24(2): 164-185.
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Abstract: Recent research on women philosophers has led to more discussion of the merits of many previously forgotten women in the past several years. Yet due to the fact that a thinker’s significance and influence are historical phenomena, women remain relatively absent in ‘mainstream’ discussions of philosophy. This paper focuses on several successful academic women in American philosophy and takes notice of how they succeeded in their own era. Special attention is given to three important academic women philosophers: Mary Whiton Calkins, Ellen Bliss Talbot, and Marietta Kies.

Comment: Focusing on three nineteenth-century women philosophers, Mary Whiton Calkins, Ellen Bliss Talbot, and Marietta Kies. Could be used as supplementary reading on a history of philosophy course if it covers the nineteenth century.

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