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Anne Conway, , . Selections from the Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy
1994, in Margaret Atherton (ed.) Women Philosophers of the Early Modern Period. Hackett Publishing Company. [originally written 1677]
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After the SEP: Anne Conway’s treatise is a work of Platonist metaphysics in which she derives her system of philosophy from the existence and attributes of God. The framework of Conway’s system is a tripartite ontological hierarchy of ‘species’, the highest of which is God, the source of all being. Christ, or ‘middle nature’, links God and the third species, called ‘Creature’. […] Anne Conway denies the existence of material body as such, arguing that inert corporeal substance would contradict the nature of God, who is life itself. Incorporeal created substance is, however, differentiated from the divine, principally on account of its mutability and multiplicity even so, the infinite number and constant mutability of created monads constitute an obverse reflection of the unity, infinity, eternity and unchangeableness of God. The continuum between God and creatures is made possible through ‘middle nature’, an intermediary being, through which God communicates life, action, goodness and justice. […] The spiritual perfectionism of Anne Conway’s system has dual aspect: metaphysical and moral. On the one hand all things are capable of becoming more spirit-like, that is, more refined qua spiritual substance. At the same time, all things are capable of increased goodness. She explains evil as a falling away from the perfection of God, and understands suffering as part of a longer term process of spiritual recovery. She denies the eternity of hell, since for God to punish finite wrong-doing with infinite and eternal hell punishment would be manifestly unjust and therefore a contradiction of the divine nature. Instead she explains pain and suffering as purgative, with the ultimate aim of restoring creatures to moral and metaphysical perfection. Anne Conway’s system is thus not just an ontology and but a theodicy.

Comment: This chapter could be used in a history of philosophy course as one week’s reading. The author has a metaphysics that is often seen to anticipate that of Leibniz so one could, e.g., include a week on Conway in advance of a week or two (or three) on Leibniz.

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Broad, Jacqueline, , . Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century
2002, Cambridge University Press.
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Added by: Alison Stone, Contributed by: Karen Green

Publisher’s Note: In this rich and detailed study of early modern women’s thought, Jacqueline Broad explores the complexity of women’s responses to Cartesian philosophy and its intellectual legacy in England and Europe. She examines the work of thinkers such as Mary Astell, Elisabeth of Bohemia, Margaret Cavendish, Anne Conway and Damaris Masham, who were active participants in the intellectual life of their time and were also the respected colleagues of philosophers such as Descartes, Leibniz and Locke. She also illuminates the continuities between early modern women’s thought and the anti-dualism of more recent feminist thinkers. The result is a more gender-balanced account of early modern thought than has hitherto been available. Broad’s clear and accessible exploration of this still-unfamiliar area will have a strong appeal to both students and scholars in the history of philosophy, women’s studies and the history of ideas.

Comment: The book is organised around six authors: Elisabeth of Bohemia, Margaret Cavendish, Anne Conway, Mary Astell, Damaris Masham and Catherine Trotter Cockburn. The book focuses on their relations to Cartesianism and this means the book can be readily used on a history of modern philosophy course. It can be treated as introducing the ideas of all the women philosophers just mentioned and, e.g., a chapter could be further reading each week accompanying primary texts by the women philosophers in question.

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