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Lecture 18

PHI 205 Lecture Notes - Lecture 18: Mary Wollstonecraft

Course Code
PHI 205
Eric Carter

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Discussion of A Vindication of the Rights of Women (Excerpts) by Mary Wollstonecraft
“Excellence, then, is a state concerned with choice, lying in a mean relative to us, this being
determined by reason and in a way in which a man of practical wisdom would determine it. Now
it is a mean between two vices, that which depends on excess and that which depends on defect;
and again, it is a mean because the vices respectively fall short of or exceed what is right in both
passions and actions.” – Aristotle
Wollstonecraft is a great example of the criticism arising during the standard
Enlightenment thought
Her thinking is much closer to Aristotle than to Kant
“…I have had in view throughout—that to improve both sexes they ought, not only in private
families, but in public schools, to be educated together. If marriage be the cement of society,
mankind should all be educated after the same model, or the intercourse of the sexes will never
deserve the name of fellowship, nor will women ever fulfill the peculiar duties of their sex, till
they become enlightened citizens, till they become free by being enabled to earn their own
subsistence, independent of men; in the same manner, I mean, to prevent misconstruction, as one
man is independent of another. Nay, marriage will never be held sacred till women, by being
brought up with men, are prepared to be their companions rather than their mistresses; for the
mean doublings of cunning will ever render them contemptible…” – Wollstonecraft
Emphasis on equality of educational opportunities
She’s not just pointing out inequality in the context of education, but also in the wider
social/political context
o These contexts are consequences of education
“Peculiar duties of their sex”
o Places emphasis on virtueagain like Aristotle
“I have already inveighed against the custom of confining girls to their needle, and shutting them
out from all political and civil employments for by thus narrowing their minds they are rendered
unfit to fulfill the peculiar duties which Nature has assigned them. Only employed about the little
incidents of the day, they necessarily grow up cunning. My very soul has often sickened at
observing the sly tricks practised by women to gain some foolish thing on which their silly hearts
were set. Not allowed to dispose of money, or call anything their own, they learn to turn the
market penny; or, should a husband offend, by staying from home, or give rise to some emotions
of jealousya new gown, or any pretty bauble, smooths Juno’s angry brow.” – Wollstonecraft
If things were different and there was more equality in education, it would allow women
to be more virtuous.
“Cunning” and “sly” refer to women’s inability to be virtuous due to the inequality in
“This argument may be carried further than philosophers are aware of, for if nature destined
women, in particular, for the discharge of domestic duties, she made her susceptible of the
attached affections in a great degree.” – Wollstonecraft
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