Fierce quotes from Brilliant 17th Century Women Philosophers

September 18, 2018

Recently, I've been reading about early modern female philosophers. Despite some recent efforts - such as Project Vox, New Narratives, and articles and books written by scholars such as Jacqueline Broad and Sarah Hutton - female voices in the history of philosophy remain silenced. Project Vox acknowledges "that a number of early modern women have been unjustly ignored in our narratives of the history of philosophy" and wants to work to change this. Their website currently shows five female philosophers from 1623 until 1749. Five women in 126 years.* Worse yet than this extremely low number, is that all of them are basically only remembered because they corresponded with or somehow influenced 'real and serious' (read: male) philosophers such as Locke, Descartes and Leibniz. In addition, there are hardly any good translations available, which impedes philosophical research. Anyway... this post was not going to turn into a rant of how male dominated the philosophy canon is, nor to bash on projects like Vox that are actually trying to change this.

 

Now, some of the early  modern women philosophers whose works we are familiar with, wrote some painfully accurate feminist comments, which still seem as apt today as they were in their own time. So I wanted to share them with you. Make sure to give their names a google, they have led interesting lives and obviously written briliant work. Here goes!

 

"since the Men being the Historians, they seldom condescend to record the great and good Actions of Women; and when they take notice ofthem, ’tis with this wise Remark, That such Women acted above their Sex. By which one must suppose they wou’d have their Readers understand, That they were not Women who did those Great Actions, but that they were Men in Petticoats!"

- Mary Astell (1666-1731)

 

"The other thing which I imagine faulty … is the insinuating into women such a Notion of Honour as if the praise of Men ought to be the Supreme Object of their Desires, and the great Motive with them to Vertue … which is rarely design’d, by some People, to signifie any thing but the single Vertue of Chastity."

- Damaris Cudworth Masham (1659-1708)

 

"I am not covetous, but as ambitious as ever any of my sex was, is, or can be; which makes, that though I cannot be Henry the Fifth, or Charles the Second, yet I endeavour to be Margaret the First.

- Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673)

 

"Judge me for my own merits, or lack of them, but do not look upon me as a mere appendage to this great general or that great scholar, this star that shines at the court of France or that famed author. I am in my own right a whole person, responsible to myself alone for all that I am, all that I say, all that I do." 

- Émilie Du Châtelet (1706-1749)

 

I'm sure there's many more cool quotes to be found by early modern women philosophers - please post them in the comment section if you know of any! I'd say, open a bottle of sassy sauvignon to lament the current state of philosophy -- but don't drink too much because we need to get up early tomorrow to try and change this.**

 

* Sure, seeing that women were not taken particularly seriously in their time, it might be "logical" that there are fewer women who were able to write on or discuss philosophy than men - but FIVE people? That just can't be true. We need to try to discover new female voices in the history of philosophy.

 

** Making philosophy more inclusive obviously also entails that we need to look beyond the boundaries of Western philosophy.

 

The picture is a philosophical work by Mary Astell, considered by many to be the first English feminist (albeit a controversial one).

 

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