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Descartes and CartesianismEssays in Honour of Desmond Clarke$
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Stephen Gaukroger and Catherine Wilson

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198779643

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198779643.001.0001

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Cartesianism and Its Feminist Promise and Limits

Cartesianism and Its Feminist Promise and Limits

The Case of Mary Astell

Chapter:
(p.191) 12 Cartesianism and Its Feminist Promise and Limits
Source:
Descartes and Cartesianism
Author(s):

Karen Detlefsen

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198779643.003.0012

This chapter discusses the moral and educational philosophy of Mary Astell (1666–1731), who took the Cartesian project—especially the dualism and championing of rational thought at its core—as offering immense promise to women. To borrow Poulain de la Barre’s phrase, the immaterial mind as the seat of distinctively human rational thought ‘has no sex’, and so Cartesian dualism—one of the very features of Descartes’ thought that twentieth-century feminists find most troublesome—provided her with an ontological basis for the radical egalitarianism of women’s and men’s natures as well as their modes of reasoning. Although she envisioned a community of benevolent women rather than a set of isolated enquirers, Cartesianism forms the foundation of many of her most important and women-friendly philosophical innovations.

Keywords:   René Descartes, Mary Astell, dualism, Johannes de Raey, feminism

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