① Mary Wollstonecraft Analysis

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Mary Wollstonecraft Analysis



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Mary Wollstonecraft - A Vindication of the Rights of Woman - Political Philosophy

Rousseau claimed that the state of nature was a primitive condition without law or morality, which human beings left for the benefits and necessity of cooperation. As society developed, division of labor and private property required the human race to adopt institutions of law. According to Rousseau, by joining together into civil society through the social contract, and abandoning their claims of natural right, individuals can both preserve themselves and remain free. This is because submission to the authority of the general will of the people as a whole guarantees individuals against being subordinated to the wills of others, and also ensures that they obey themselves because they are, collectively, the authors of the law.

The idea of general will denoted the will of the people as a whole. Although Rousseau argues that sovereignty or the power to make the laws should be in the hands of the people, he also makes a sharp distinction between the sovereign and the government. He posits that the political aspects of a society should be divided into two parts. First, there must be a sovereign consisting of the whole population, women included, that represents the general will and is the legislative power within the state.

The second division is that of the government, being distinct from the sovereign. This division is necessary because the sovereign cannot deal with particular matters like applications of the law. Doing so would undermine its generality, and therefore damage its legitimacy. Thus, government must remain a separate institution from the sovereign body. When the government exceeds the boundaries set in place by the people, it is the mission of the people to abolish such government, and begin anew. Rousseau felt that children learn right and wrong through experiencing the consequences of their acts, rather than through physical punishment. Rousseau became an early advocate of developmentally appropriate education.

The private sphere as Rousseau imagines it depends on the subordination of women, in order for both it and the public political sphere upon which it depends to function as Rousseau imagines it could and should. Rousseau anticipated the modern idea of the bourgeois nuclear family, with the mother at home taking responsibility for the household, childcare, and early education. Nicolas de Condorcet, known also as Marquis de Condorcet, was a French philosopher, mathematician, and early political scientist. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he advocated a liberal economy, free and equal public instruction, constitutionalism, and equal rights for women and people of all races.

Although his ideas and writings are considered to embody the ideals of the Age of Enlightenment and rationalism, they were much more radical that those of most of his contemporaries, even those who were also seen as radicals. Condorcet was born in and raised by a devoutly religious mother. From to , he focused on science. In , he published his first work on mathematics, launching his career as a mathematician.

In , he was elected to the French Royal Academy of Sciences. Condorcet worked with Leonhard Euler and Benjamin Franklin. He soon became an honorary member of many foreign academies and philosophic societies, but his political ideas, particularly that of radical democracy, were criticized heavily in the English-speaking world, most notably by John Adams. In , Condorcet wrote a pamphlet, Reflections on Negro Slavery , in which he denounced slavery. Condorcet took a leading role when the French Revolution swept France in He hoped for a rationalist reconstruction of society, and championed many liberal causes.

In , he presented a project for the reformation of the education system, aiming to create a hierarchical structure, under the authority of experts who would work as the guardians of the Enlightenment and who, independent of power, would be the guarantors of public liberties. The project was judged to be contrary to the republican and egalitarian virtues. At the time of the Trial of Louis XVI, Condorcet, who opposed the death penalty but still supported the trial itself, spoke out against the execution of the King during the public vote at the Convention.

He proposed to send the king to the galleys. Changing forces and shifts in power among different revolutionary groups eventually positioned largely independent Condorcet in the role of the critic of predominant ideas. After a period of hiding, he was captured and in he mysteriously died in prison. It narrates the history of civilization as one of progress in the sciences, shows the intimate connection between scientific progress and the development of human rights and justice, and outlines the features of a future rational society entirely shaped by scientific knowledge.

It also made the notion of progress a central concern of Enlightenment thought. Condorcet argued that expanding knowledge in the natural and social sciences would lead to an ever more just world of individual freedom, material affluence, and moral compassion. He believed that through the use of our senses and communication with others, knowledge could be compared and contrasted as a way of analyzing our systems of belief and understanding.

Instead, he frequently wrote of his faith in humanity itself and its ability to progress with the help of philosophers. He envisioned man as continually progressing toward a perfectly utopian society. However, he stressed that for this to be a possibility, man must unify regardless of race, religion, culture, or gender. According to Condorcet, for republicanism to exist the nation needed enlightened citizens, and education needed democracy to become truly public. Democracy implied free citizens and ignorance was the source of servitude. Citizens had to be provided with the necessary knowledge to exercise their freedom and understand the rights and laws that guaranteed their enjoyment.

Although education could not eliminate disparities in talent, all citizens, including women, had the right to free education. In opposition to those who relied on revolutionary enthusiasm to form the new citizens, Condorcet maintained that revolution was not made to last, and that revolutionary institutions were not intended to prolong the revolutionary experience but to establish political rules and legal mechanisms that would insure future changes without revolution.

In a democratic city there would be no Bastille to be seized. Public education would form free and responsible citizens, not revolutionaries. After two ill-fated affairs, with Henry Fuseli and Gilbert Imlay by whom she had a daughter, Fanny Imlay , Wollstonecraft married the philosopher William Godwin, one of the forefathers of the anarchist movement. She died at the age of 38, eleven days after giving birth to her second daughter, leaving behind several unfinished manuscripts. The second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, became an accomplished writer herself as Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.

Today, Wollstonecraft is regarded as one of the founding feminist philosophers, and feminists often cite both her life and work as important influences. Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie c. Despite the controversial topic, the Rights of Woman received favorable reviews and was a great success. It was almost immediately released in a second edition in , several American editions appeared, and it was translated into French.

It was only the later revelations of her personal life that resulted in negative views towards Wollstonecraft, which persisted for over a century. Both texts also advocate the education of women, a controversial topic at the time, and one which she would return to throughout her career. Wollstonecraft argues that well-educated women will be good wives and mothers, and ultimately contribute positively to the nation. Wollstonecraft attacked not only monarchy and hereditary privilege, but also the gendered language that Burke used to defend and elevate it. Burke associated the beautiful with weakness and femininity, and the sublime with strength and masculinity. In her arguments for republican virtue, Wollstonecraft invokes an emerging middle-class ethos in opposition to what she views as the vice-ridden aristocratic code of manners.

Influenced by Enlightenment thinkers, she believed in progress, and derides Burke for relying on tradition and custom. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy. Instead of viewing women as ornaments to society or property to be traded in marriage, Wollstonecraft maintains that they are human beings deserving of the same fundamental rights as men. Large sections of the Rights of Woman respond vitriolically to the writers, who wanted to deny women an education. While Wollstonecraft does call for equality between the sexes in particular areas of life, such as morality, she does not explicitly state that men and women are equal. She claims that men and women are equal in the eyes of God.

However, such statements of equality stand in contrast to her statements respecting the superiority of masculine strength and valor. Her ambiguous position regarding the equality of the sexes have since made it difficult to classify Wollstonecraft as a modern feminist. Her focus on the rights of women does distinguish Wollstonecraft from most of her male Enlightenment counterparts. However, some of them, most notably Marquis de Condorcet, expressed a much more explicit position on the equality of men and women.

It encourages modesty and industry in its readers and attacks the uselessness of the aristocracy. But Wollstonecraft is not necessarily a friend to the poor. For example, in her national plan for education, she suggests that, after the age of nine, the poor, except for those who are brilliant, should be separated from the rich and taught in another school. Privacy Policy. Skip to main content. The Age of Enlightenment. Search for:. Enlightenment Thinkers. Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher and scientist, was one of the key figures in the political debates of the Enlightenment period. Key Takeaways Key Points Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher and scientist, was one of the key figures in the political debates of the Enlightenment period.

Despite advocating the idea of absolutism of the sovereign, he developed some of the fundamentals of European liberal thought. Hobbes argued that in order to avoid chaos, which he associated with the state of nature, people accede to a social contract and establish a civil society. While he recognized the inalienable rights of the human, he argued that if humans wished to live peacefully, they had to give up most of their natural rights and create moral obligations, in order to establish political and civil society. Key Terms natural rights : The rights that are not dependent on the laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government, and are therefore universal and inalienable i. The first and second conflicts pitted the supporters of King Charles I against the supporters of the Long Parliament, while the third saw fighting between supporters of King Charles II and supporters of the Rump Parliament.

Leviathan : A book written by Thomas Hobbes and published in The work concerns the structure of society and legitimate government, and is regarded as one of the earliest and most influential examples of social contract theory. It argues for a social contract and rule by an absolute sovereign. John Locke John Locke, an English philosopher and physician, is regarded as one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers, whose work greatly contributed to the development of the notions of social contract and natural rights. The First Treatise is focused on the refutation of Sir Robert Filmer, in particular his Patriarcha, which argued that civil society was founded on a divinely sanctioned patriarchalism. He believed that human nature is characterized by reason and tolerance, but he assumed that the sole right to defend in the state of nature was not enough, so people established a civil society to resolve conflicts in a civil way with help from government in a state of society.

Historians vary in their assessment of the degree to which details of the conspiracy were finalized. This remained the prevailing analysis of the Rights of Men until the s, when feminist scholars revisited Wollstonecraft's texts and endeavoured to bring greater attention to their intellectualism. A Vindication of the Rights of Men was written against the backdrop of the French Revolution and the debates that it provoked in Britain.

In a lively and sometimes vicious pamphlet war, now referred to as the Revolution Controversy , which lasted from until the end of , British political commentators argued over the validity of monarchy. Alfred Cobban has called this debate "perhaps the last real discussion of the fundamentals of politics in [Britain]". Efforts to reform the British electoral system and to distribute the seats in the House of Commons more equitably were revived. Much of the vigorous political debate in the s was sparked by the publication of Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France in November Most commentators in Britain expected Burke to support the French revolutionaries, because he had previously been part of the liberal Whig party, a critic of monarchical power, a supporter of the American revolutionaries , and a prosecutor of poor governance in India.

When he failed to do so, it shocked the populace and angered his friends and supporters. Wollstonecraft's Rights of Men was published only weeks after Burke's Reflections. While Burke supported aristocracy, monarchy, and the Established Church, liberals such as William Godwin , Paine, and Wollstonecraft, argued for republicanism , agrarian socialism, anarchy , and religious toleration. They were also united in the same broad criticisms: opposition to the bellicose "landed interest" and its role in government corruption, and opposition to a monarchy and aristocracy who they believed were unlawfully seizing the people's power. After this alliance was formed, the conservative-dominated government prohibited seditious writings. Over prosecutions for sedition took place in the s alone, a dramatic increase from previous decades.

When, in October , crowds threw refuse at George III and insulted him, demanding a cessation of the war with France and lower bread prices, Parliament immediately passed the "gagging acts" the Seditious Meetings Act and the Treasonable Practices Act , also known as the "Two Acts". Under these new laws, it was almost impossible to hold public meetings and speech was severely curtailed at those that were held. It was not until the next generation that any real reform could be enacted. Published partially in response to Dissenting clergyman Richard Price's sermon celebrating the French revolution, A Discourse on the Love of Our Country , Burke used the device of a mock-letter to a young Frenchman's plea for guidance in order to defend aristocratic government, paternalism, loyalty, chivalry, and primogeniture.

In Reflections , he argues that citizens do not have the right to revolt against their government, because civilizations, including governments, are the result of social and political consensus. If a culture's traditions were continually challenged, he contends, the result would be anarchy. Burke criticizes many British thinkers and writers who welcomed the early stages of the French Revolution. While the radicals likened the revolution to Britain's own Glorious Revolution in , which had restricted the powers of the monarchy, Burke argues that the appropriate historical analogy was the English Civil War — , in which Charles I had been executed in In his Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful , he had argued that "large inexact notions convey ideas best", and to generate fear in the reader, in Reflections he constructs the set-piece of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette forced from their palace at sword point.

When the violence actually escalated in France in with the Reign of Terror , Burke was viewed as a prophet. Burke also criticizes the learning associated with the French philosophes ; he maintains that new ideas should not, in an imitation of the emerging discipline of science, be tested on society in an effort to improve it, but that populations should rely on custom and tradition to guide them. In the advertisement printed at the beginning of the Rights of Men , Wollstonecraft describes how and why she wrote it:. BURKE'S Reflections on the French Revolution first engaged my attention as the transient topic of the day; and reading it more for amusement than information, my indignation was roused by the sophistical arguments, that every moment crossed me, in the questionable shape of natural feelings and common sense.

Many pages of the following letter were the effusions of the moment; but, swelling imperceptibly to a considerable size, the idea was suggested of publishing a short vindication of the Rights of Men. Not having leisure or patience to follow this desultory writer through all the devious tracks in which his fancy has started fresh game, I have confined my strictures, in a great measure, to the grand principles at which he has levelled many ingenious arguments in a very specious garb. So the pamphlet could be published as soon as she finished writing it, Wollstonecraft wrote frantically while her publisher Joseph Johnson printed the pages. In fact, Godwin's Memoirs of Wollstonecraft tells that the sheets of manuscript were delivered to the press as they were written.

One biographer describes it as a "loss of nerve"; Godwin, in his Memoirs , describes it as "a temporary fit of torpor and indolence". Ashamed, she rushed to finish. Wollstonecraft's Rights of Men was published anonymously on 29 November , the first of between fifty and seventy responses to Burke by various authors. Until the s, the Rights of Men was typically considered disorganized, incoherent, illogical, and replete with ad hominem attacks such as the suggestion that Burke would have promoted the crucifixion of Christ if he were a Jew. More importantly, as scholar Mitzi Myers argues, "Wollstonecraft is virtually alone among those who answered Burke in eschewing a narrowly political approach for a wide-ranging critique of the foundation of the Reflections.

The style of the Rights of Men mirrors much of Burke's own text. It has no clear structure; like Reflections , the text follows the mental associations made by the author as she was writing. DePont, a young Frenchman, and hers to Burke himself. The Rights of Men is as much about language and argumentation as it is about political theory; in fact, Wollstonecraft claims that these are inseparable. The Rights of Men does not aim to present a fully articulated alternative political theory to Burke's, but instead to demonstrate the weaknesses and contradictions in his own argument. Therefore, much of the text is focused on Burke's logical inconsistencies, such as his support of the American revolution and the Regency Bill which proposed restricting monarchical power during George III's madness in , in contrast to his lack of support for the French revolutionaries.

You were so eager to taste the sweets of power, that you could not wait till time had determined, whether a dreadful delirium would settle into a confirmed madness; but, prying into the secrets of Omnipotence, you thundered out that God had hurled him from his throne , and that it was the most insulting mockery to recollect that he had been a king, or treat him with any particular respect on account of his former dignity…. I have, Sir, been reading, with a scrutinizing, comparative eye, several of your insensible and profane speeches during the King's illness. She returned home to nurse her ailing mother in the latter part of In the winter of , Mary left them in order to attend to her sister Eliza and her newly born daughter. By February of that year, the two sisters had already been planning to establish a school with Fanny Blood.

This was a crucial encounter for Mary. Several years later, she was to rise to his defence in a Vindication of the Rights of Men , and it was through her connections to members of this community that she was to gain an introduction to her future publisher, friend, and one might even say, patron, Joseph Johnson. In November , Wollstonecraft set off on a trip to Lisbon, where her friend Fanny, who had married that February, was expecting her first child. On board the ship, Mary met a man suffering from consumption; she nursed him for a fortnight, the length of the journey.

This experience is related in her first novel, Mary, a Fiction She gained a very unfavourable opinion of Portuguese life and society, which seemed to her ruled by irrationality and superstitions. On her return to England, Wollstonecraft found her school in a dire state. Far from providing her with a reliable income and some stability, it was to be a source of endless worries and a financial drain. Although it might seem somewhat cursory, this book served as the groundwork for many of the topics to which she would return in her more famous works of the s.

Following the collapse of her school, Wollstonecraft became a governess to the family of Lord Kingsborough for a brief and unsatisfactory period. The position took her to Ireland, where she completed Mary, A Fiction. On her return to London, Joseph Johnson came to the rescue once again by giving her some literary employment. In , she also began, but never completed, The Cave of Fancy. A Tale. The same year, she wrote Original Stories from Real Life; with Conversations, calculated to Regulate the Affections, and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness ; it appeared in two other London editions in her life time and , the last of which illustrated by William Blake. To understand the extent to which Wollstonecraft made up for the lack of a formal education, it is essential to appreciate fully that her talents were to extend to translating and reviewing, and that these two activities, quite apart from her own intellectual curiosity, acquainted her with a great many authors, including Leibniz and Kant.

In each case, the texts she produced were almost as if her own, not just because she was in agreement with their original authors, but because she more or less re-wrote them. Throughout the period covered by these translations Wollstonecraft wrote for the Analytical Review , which her publisher, Joseph Johnson, together with Thomas Christie, started in May She was involved with this publication either as a reviewer or as editorial assistant for most of its relatively short life. Despite her own practice of the genre, her many reviews reveal the degree to which, she, like many other moralists in the eighteenth century, feared the moral consequences of reading novels. She believed that even those of a relatively superior quality encouraged vanity and selfishness.

She was to concede, however, that reading such works might nonetheless be better than not reading at all. Until the end of , her articles were mostly of a moral and aesthetic nature. This address to the Revolution Society in commemoration of the events of partly prompted Burke to compose his famous Reflections on the Revolution in France, and on the Proceedings in Certain Societies in London Relative to that Event In September , Wollstonecraft began A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects, which elaborated a number of points made in the previous Vindication , namely, that in most cases, marriage was nothing but a property relation, and that the education women received ensured that they could not meet the expectations society had of them and almost certainly guaranteed them an unhappy life.

Following the publication of her second Vindication , Wollstonecraft was introduced to the French statesman and diplomat, Charles Talleyrand, on his mission to London on the part of the Constituent Assembly in February She dedicated the second edition of the A Vindication of the Rights of Woman to him. They never married. Most of all, her love of Imlay brought Wollstonecraft to the realisation that the passions are not so easily brought to heel by reason.

Wollstonecraft had a girl by Imlay. She broke with Imlay finally in March In April of the same year, she renewed her acquaintance with William Godwin and they became lovers that summer. They were married at St Pancras church in March It is important to note however that whilst Locke advocated home education to shield boys from the bad influences to which they might be subject at school, Wollstonecraft was mostly inclined to think the opposite on the grounds that children needed to be with persons of their own age. In an ideal world, boys and girls would be educated together in schools.

It is stressed in her Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Self-mastery was thus the aim of education and it was the duty of parents to ensure that their children received it. Ultimately, she wanted children and young people to educated in such a way as to have well balanced minds in strong and healthy bodies. That mind and body needed to be exercised and prepared to face the inevitable hardships of life is the fundamental point of her of her pedagogical works Tomaselli She endorsed his view of liberty of conscience as a sacred right and wrote sympathetically about his plea for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, which imposed civil disabilities on Dissenters.

She also seemed to support his claim that the political Settlement of was wanting in that it did not make for full representation of the people and hence made only for partial liberty. Finally, Wollstonecraft reproduced the passage in which Price linked the American and French revolutions and clamoured for the end of despotism throughout Europe. Far from thinking that the events taking place in France gave grounds for rejoicing, Burke feared their consequences from the very start.

Of the disagreements between Price and Wollstonecraft, on the one hand, and Burke, on the other, one of the deepest was over their respective view of the nature of civil society and of political power in general. The two friends believed that government, the rule of law, and all human relations could be simplified, explicated, and rendered transparent, and both were convinced that this was the task ahead for all lovers of liberty.

For Burke, on the contrary, civil society consisted of countless ineffable links between individuals. To sweep away established practices and institutions and think of politics as a mere matter of administrating in accordance with a set of abstract rules or rights uninformed by the customs and culture, and hence the national character, of a people was, in his view, to demonstrate a crass disregard for the most obvious facts of human nature and history Conniff It consists mostly of a sustained attack on Burke rather than a defence of the rights of man.

This is partly because Wollstonecraft took for granted a Lockean conception of God-given rights discoverable by reason, except when the latter was warped by self-love. Wollstonecraft further believed that God made all things right and that the cause of all evil was man. As she was to do in her next and more famous Vindication , Wollstonecraft did not simply clamour for rights, but emphasised that these entail duties; but she also insisted that none could be expected to perform duties whose natural rights were not respected. There was no question of blanket reverence for the past and its juridical legacy.

As for civilization, she thought its progress very uneven and dismissed the culture of politeness and polish as nothing but a screen behind which hypocrisy, egotism and greed festered unchecked. Finally, opposing nature and reason to artifice and politeness, she made herself the true patriot and Burke the fickle Francophile. She was the clear-headed independent thinker, he the emotive creature of a system of patronage.

In the midst of her tirade she turned, rather unexpectedly, to the subject of family life and the limits of parental authority, especially in relation to arranged marriages Tomaselli She condemned marriages of convenience together with late marriages: both fostered immorality in her view. Indeed, from her perspective, nearly every aspect of the prevailing culture had that consequence, for, in bringing girls up to be nothing but empty headed playthings, parents made for a morally bankrupt society. Such beings could never make dutiful mothers, as they took the horizon to be the eyes of the men they flirted with. The moral depravity of a society devoted to the acquisition of property and its conspicuous display rather than to the pursuit of reason and the protection of natural rights found the means of its reproduction in the family, she contended.

Here her dispute was not just with Burke, but implicitly also with Price Jones,

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