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Lecture 5

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Sociology and Anthropology
SOAN 2111
Linda Hunter

Week 5 & 6: Mary Astell  ● 1668-1731  ● From a young age she was deeply religious  ● She shared the conservative politics of the church  ● Parents died young, had to fend for herself in London  ● She never married ● Books she wrote:  ○ Cambridge Platonist John Norris  ○ The Christian Religion (1705) ■ Shoes the religious foundation fir Astell’s belief in women’s equality, nor with interesting ethical arguments  ○ Serious Proposal for the Ladies part 1 (1694) part 2 (1697)  Most popular book  Demonstrating the legal disabilities of women  ○ An Enquiry after Wit ■ Opposed the moderation and accommodation for dissent of the Earl of Shaftesbury and John Locke ○ Reflections Upon Marriage  ● Her work is an great combination for Cartesian doubt and Lockean caution and aversion to the system  ● Astell published her books anonymously, adhering to the conventions of her class and sex  ● Her treatment of women as men’s intellectual and moral equals was attacked by anti- feminists of the day  ● Astell has more recently attracted interest as an early feminist but is still little recognized as a methodologist and political polemicist  ● Astell’s fierce opposition to Locke’s liberal politics, toleration of dissent, and leanings to Unitarianism have tended to influence commentators to treat her as an opponent of Locke’s empiricism also  ● Astell did the opposite of Locke; drawing on Descartes when he was cautious and sceptical, not accepting his system building  ● A Serious Proposal to the Ladies became a work of methodology in the course of arguing the importance of education for women o ○ she had to first treat the underlying issue of how anyone acquires knowledge o ○ “for since God has given women as well as men intelligent souls, why should they be forbidden to improve them?” (18)  ● She distinguishes 3 modes of thinking: faith, science and opinion: ○ “Knowledge in a proper and restricted sense and as appropriated to science, signifies that clear perception which is followed by a firm assent to conclusions rightly drawn from premises of which we have clear and distinct ideas. Which premises or principles must be so clear and evident, that supposing us reasonable creatures, and free from prejudices and passions, which for the time they predominate as good as deprive us of our reason, we cannot withhold our assent from them without manifest violence to our reason. But if the nature of the thing be such as it admits of no undoubted premises to argue from, or at least we do not present know of any, or that the conclusion does not so necessarily follow as to give a perfect satisfaction to the mind and to free it from all hesitation, that which we think of it is then called opinion.” (81)  ● Astell did not include the senses in her enumerations of the ways of knowing in Serious Proposal, for properly speaking we are conscious of what we perceive rather than knowing it  ● She was keen to argue the common ground between faith and science o ○ She held that, while there was a great difference between immutable science and variable and uncertain opinion, the different between faith and science was not so great as usually supposed o ○ Science involved following a process based on clear and evident principles o ○ While Faith depends on the witness of another ■ In matters of faith we cannot see so clearly and distinctly as to be unable to believe  ● She thinks we should be sober and recognize that we know very little if we make our own reason the standard of all truth  ● It is certain that nothing is true but what is conformable to reason, and as certain that there are many truths which human reason cannot comprehend  ● Her understanding of “reason” was strictly qualified ○ Sceptical as she was of the reliability of the senses, so also was she of reason ● Contrary to idealists, she held that t
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