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The Philosophy of Mary AstellAn Early Modern Theory of Virtue$

Jacqueline Broad

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198716815

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198716815.001.0001

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Soul and Body

Soul and Body

(p.63) 4 Soul and Body
The Philosophy of Mary Astell

Jacqueline Broad

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Mary Astell’s arguments concerning the true nature of the self ground her moral views about the cultivation of proper self-esteem, self-love, and self-satisfaction. This chapter examines her argument for the view that the self is the soul, an immaterial and immortal substance, capable of existing independently of the body. The first part of this chapter explains her argument for the real distinction between soul and body, an argument that borrows crucial precepts from Cartesian dualist arguments. The second part discusses the moral implications of Astell’s concept of the self—especially the idea that temporal, bodily creatures could never render an immortal, immaterial soul truly happy. The third part concludes by examining the question of whether or not Astell was an occasionalist with respect to body–soul causation (the causation of sensation).

Keywords:   Mary Astell, body–soul causation, Cartesianism, dualism, occasionalism

In her advice concerning study, Astell recommends that her readers meditate not only on the nature of God but also on the nature of the self and material beings.1 The self is a crucial concept in her moral philosophy. Above all, the wise, virtuous, and happy woman has proper self-love: she seeks to do things that make her a better person, to improve her mind, and to attain excellence of character.2 She also has a healthy sense of self-esteem: she prides herself on things of intrinsic worth, on the ‘highest attainments’, and not according to what custom deems worthy or valuable.3 This woman’s life thus abounds in self-satisfaction, or that tranquillity of mind that can be enjoyed even in the midst of outward troubles and disturbances.4 To appreciate these moral ideals, it is important to recognize that Astell regards the self as the immaterial soul and not the material body or the soul–body composite. In this chapter, I examine Astell’s arguments for the soul–body distinction, as well as her views about body–soul causation (the causation of sensation). Like Descartes, Astell holds that there are two independently subsisting things: the soul (or mind), which is a thinking thing, and the body or matter, which is essentially extended substance (a thing extended in length, breadth, and depth). She also maintains that the soul and body enjoy a substantial union in the human subject. But Astell is not explicit about how, or even if, these two substances are capable of causally influencing (p.64) one another. Some commentators suggest that, in her mature writings, Astell is in fact an occasionalist, meaning someone who holds the view that the soul and body interact only by virtue of God’s direct causal intervention.5 Others maintain that she occupies a consistent Cartesian interactionist position on the subject.6 To clarify Astell’s views, I propose to examine the metaphysical opinions expressed in her Letters, the second Proposal, and The Christian Religion.7

4.1 The Soul–Body Distinction

In The Christian Religion, Astell’s argument for the real distinction between soul and body is a small subsection of a multi-layered argument for the immortality of the soul. According to Astell, if a thing consists in parts, ‘whose particular composition and figure is that which denominate it this or that being, and which distinguish it from all other beings’, then that thing is corruptible (it is subject to decay).8 When an individual’s parts are divided or disunited, we say that that particular individual no longer exists. So if a thing is corruptible, then it is also mortal. By the same logic, it follows that if a thing is without parts or indivisible, then it is naturally immortal: it ‘is in its own nature incorruptible, it must always be the same individual being, and can never cease to be’,9 it can be destroyed by neither an internal nor external force.10

For the moral benefit of her readers, Astell proposes to show that the soul is naturally immortal by virtue of its nonmaterial and indivisible nature. At the outset, however, she faces a difficulty: by her own confession, she has no clear and distinct idea of the soul. In the Letters to Norris, she says ‘I have no clear Idea of (p.65) that which is properly my self, nor do I well know how to distinguish its Powers and Operations’.11 She reiterates this point both in the second Proposal (‘we can’t Know the Nature of our Souls Distinctly’)12 and in The Christian Religion (‘we have no idea of the noblest part of us’).13 In this respect, once again, she follows Norris and Malebranche, and not the orthodox Cartesian position. Norris and Malebranche both deny that we can have self-knowledge through clear and distinct ideas, but allow that we can have intuitive knowledge of the soul and its operations through immediate consciousness. In his Theory, Norris remarks: ‘That we do Think is what we are inwardly conscious of to our selves, what we feel and know by a Sentiment as clear and evident as that of Pleasure or Pain. And as ’tis impossible to prove it to another, so we need not go to prove it to our selves.’14 Astell likewise affirms ‘That we all think, needs no proof.’15 From this starting point, she turns her attention to two rival hypotheses about ‘the thing in us that thinks’: one, that it is immaterial, and the other, that it is material. Her principal aim is to dismiss the latter theory of thinking matter as unintelligible.

In a well-known passage of his Essay, Locke states that we cannot know by the mere contemplation of our ideas of matter and thinking that an omnipotent being ‘has not given to some Systems of Matter fitly disposed, a power to perceive and think’.16 For Locke, we are simply incapable of knowing the real essence of substance, or the substratum underlying the properties we perceive. From his epistemological standpoint, it is just as conceivable that God could superadd a faculty of thinking to matter as to any other substance, ‘since we know not wherein Thinking consists’.17 In the early eighteenth century, Locke’s suggestion was mistakenly interpreted as an affirmation of materialism.18 While Astell does not outrightly accuse Locke of materialism, she is suspicious of the irreligious implications of his assertions about matter and thinking. In her view, if the soul is (p.66) material, then it will be divisible and corruptible—and therefore mortal. In order to refute Locke’s suggestion, she demonstrates how the idea of thinking matter is inconsistent with other assertions he makes about knowledge.19 She attempts to defeat Locke, as one admirer puts it, with his own artillery.20 In the Essay IV.iii.29, Locke explicitly concedes that in ‘some of our Ideas there are certain Relations, Habitudes, and Connexions, so visibly included in the Nature of the Ideas themselves, that we cannot conceive them separable from them, by any Power whatsoever. And in these only are we capable of certain and universal Knowledge’.21 As an example, Locke cites the idea of a right-lined triangle which as a matter of necessity must have angles that are equal to two right angles. The relation between these ideas, the triangle and the sum of its angles, cannot be altered ‘by any Power whatsoever’. This connection is necessary, according to Astell, ‘because it is repugnant to the idea of such a triangle, that its angles should be either greater or less’.22 In the same way, Locke agrees that we can know that it is contradictory to say that a substance is both solid and not solid at the same time. We can also know that the idea of a sphere is ‘repugnant’ to, or incompatible with, the idea of a cube, and that motion is not rest, and so on. Astell aims to show that the ideas of thinking and matter are as repugnant as the idea of a triangle having, say, the property of being equal to a square.

Toward that end, Astell presents her own version of Descartes’ ‘epistemological argument’ for mind–body dualism.23 In the Sixth Meditation, Descartes argues from the proposition that he can clearly and distinctly conceive of the mind existing apart from the body, to the conclusion that the mind is really distinct from the body and can exist without it.24 Astell also offers an argument from conceivability. But while Descartes’ argument relies on the premise that he has a clear and distinct perception of the mind that does not include extension, Astell cannot appeal to the language of clear and distinct ideas. Like Norris and (p.67) Malebranche, she denies having a clear and distinct idea of the soul. Instead, she says there is:

no way to judge of things but by their ideas, or to distinguish this from that, but by the distinction and difference of ideas; therefore when two complete ideas (as complete is opposed to abstraction, or a partial consideration of an idea) have different properties and affections, and can be considered without any relation to, or dependence on each other, so that we can be sure of the existence of the one, even at the same time we can suppose that the other does not exist, as is indeed the case of a thinking and of an extended being, or of mind and body; here these two ideas, and consequently the things they represent, are truly distinct and of different natures. Now, to be distinct from a thing, is all one as not to be this thing, so that since thought and extension are distinct and different in their own natures, as we have seen, it is evident that a thinking being as such, excludes extension; and an extended being excludes thought.25

With a little rearrangement, here is a formal statement of her argument:

  1. 1. If I can have a complete idea of x that has no relation to, or dependence on, my complete idea of y, then x and y are truly distinct and of different natures.

  2. 2. I can have a complete idea of mind as thinking being without any relation to, or dependence on, my complete idea of body as extended being.

  3. 3. Therefore, mind and body are truly distinct and of different natures.

Here Astell’s crucial point concerns the completeness of our ideas. When she affirms that she has a complete idea of soul as thinking being without ‘any relation to, or dependence on’ the body, she does not affirm that she has a comprehensive knowledge of it, but rather that she has a distinct idea of the soul as an independently existing thing. Her appeal to this notion of completeness as ‘opposed to abstraction, or a partial consideration of an idea’ strongly recalls Norris’s wording in his Theory of the Ideal or Intelligible World.26 In that work, Norris makes a distinction between distinct ideas that are complete and those that are incomplete or inadequate. The first are made distinct by a real distinction between the objects of the ideas. The second are made distinct ‘only by abstraction and partial consideration’ of the objects in question;27 they involve considering different aspects or different ‘Modes or Manners of Being’ of one and (p.68) the same thing.28 For example, he says, our ideas of a figured substance and of a moveable substance can be distinct ideas. We might easily conceive of a substance’s figure without conceiving of its motion, or vice versa. But although figure and motion are distinct, ‘yet a figured Substance and a moveable Substance need not be so’.29 The figured substance and the moveable substance might not be different things, but rather the same thing partially considered. Abstraction just is ‘considering one thing without another in things that are not in reality deniable or exclusive of one another’.30 Now, Norris asks, how do we know when the distinctness of our ideas comes from a real distinction and not from abstraction alone? His answer is that we may not always know—but there is a useful test. Let us begin by supposing that the idea in question is a mere abstraction. If this is really the case, then we know that the object of the idea cannot exist apart from the foundation of its abstraction. In the case of figure and motion, ‘tho I can conceive Motion without Figure, and Figure without Motion, and abstract both from extended Being, yet I cannot understand Motion or Figure to be without extended Being’.31 Now, what of our ideas of extended being and thinking being? Are these ideas distinct in themselves or only distinct in abstraction? Let us begin by supposing that thinking being is a mere abstraction from extended being. Can we conceive of thinking apart from the foundation of its abstraction, extended being? The answer is Yes. On these grounds, Norris concludes that thinking being and extended being are really distinct and different things.

Astell’s aforementioned argument follows the same logic. She affirms that we can be certain of the existence of thinking being even while supposing that extended being does not exist. She also concludes with Norris’s same reference to triangles and circles: ‘The one [thinking being] is not, cannot be, extended, nor does, or can the other [extended being] think, any more than a circle can have the properties of a triangle, or a triangle those of a circle.’32

With these arguments, it must be said, both Astell and Norris face the problem of reasoning about conceivability in conditions of ignorance. The problem is that while our idea of x might have no apparent dependence on our idea of y, it is still the case that we might find out that x metaphysically depends upon y for its existence. It might be the case that, regardless of what our ideas tell us is conceivable, thought could still be an inseparable property of extended substance. Unlike Descartes, neither author can give an independent reason, such as the (p.69) Cartesian rule of evidence (clear and distinct ideas, guaranteed by God), to think that our ideas are reliable guides to the true nature of things.

In a separate subsection, however, Astell uses the same abstractive reasoning to mount a reductio against the idea of thinking matter. She begins with the supposition that all thought is a mere abstraction from, or a mere mode of, extended being. But if we allow that ‘modes do immediately depend upon, and are inseparable from the thing whose modes they are, existing no otherwise but in it’, she says, then absurdities will arise.33 In particular, it will follow that God is an extended being ‘otherwise upon this supposition He could not think’.34 But an all-perfect being cannot be extended, because divisibility (a property of extension) would detract from his perfection. For this reason, we can know that thought cannot be a mode of extended being. This argument is not necessarily convincing or conclusive in itself, but it does serve to back up her initial real distinction argument.

From Astell’s conclusion that thought and extension are distinct and different in their own natures, she affirms the incompatibility or repugnancy of the ideas of thinking and matter: ‘it is evident that a thinking being as such, excludes extension; and an extended being excludes thought.’35 An extended being can no more have the property of thinking than a triangle can have the property of being equal to a square. She declares that Locke’s argument for thinking matter is therefore ‘destroyed by his own principles’.36 This is because ‘in the words of the Essay, [God] “cannot separate that which is so included in the nature of an idea, that we can’t conceive it separable”: and by a parity of reason, can’t add that which is so excluded from the nature of an idea, that we can’t conceive the idea capable of that addition’.37 It is as absurd to suggest that thought could be superadded to matter, as to suggest that a triangle could have a speaking and dancing faculty superadded to it.38

Astell is therefore able to complete her argument for the immortality of the soul, despite her lack of a clear and distinct idea of her own nature as a thinking thing. Her argument simply relies on the negative thesis that ‘body can’t think’. From this, she infers that ‘because I and all other reasonable creatures think, therefore we are something that is not body’.39

(p.70) Now all beings whatsoever, are either material or immaterial; therefore since that which thinks is not material, it must be immaterial; and for this reason it is not liable to separation of parts or corruption, as all material beings are; consequently the human mind is in its own nature immortal, as was to be proved.40

This knowledge of our immortality has significant implications for Astell’s views on how we should live.

4.2 Duties to our Souls

According to Astell, ‘if we know ourselves, we shall know what is our true good’.41 Knowledge of the soul’s immortality teaches us our duties toward God and our selves (more specifically, how to love them) and our duties toward other people (how not to love them).42 As for our duties to our selves, Astell distinguishes between the self considered as ‘a mere natural person’ and the self considered as a member of the Christian community:

To speak as a mere natural person, our duty to ourselves consists in making the best use of our talents, and hereby aspiring to the highest degree of happiness and perfection of which we are capable. But considering it as a Christian, I place it in doing nothing that misbecomes the relation we bear to Christ as members of His body, and in living suitably to so high a dignity.43

Let us focus here on the duties to the self as a mere natural person.44 How do we make the best use of our talents? And how do we attain happiness and perfection? Astell advises that we must acquaint ourselves ‘with the weaknesses and the excellencies of human nature, that we may provide against the one and improve the other’.45 She says that

since the mind is immaterial as we have seen, it is evident, that this world and the things thereof, are not, cannot be its good; they are of a much inferior nature, and their duration is contemptible. Nay, supposing them to be real goods, and ever so fit to be enjoyed, yet how can a material good satisfy or improve a spiritual nature? How can a temporal good render an immortal being happy?46

(p.71) The answers are obvious. We must not waste our talents in pursuing present pleasure or mutable worldly interests—we must focus on our long-term good and our eternal legacy. We must pursue what is conducive to our happiness and perfection as immaterial and immortal beings.

Astell’s philosophical conception of the self also informs her arguments in the Proposal. She advises her readers that, in this book, ‘No solicitude in the adornation of your selves is discommended, provided you employ your care about that which is really your self.’47 The problem is that custom has taught women to live like Cartesian machines, those pure material beings devoid of souls or spiritual substance, and so they engage in an ‘unthinking mechanical way of living’.48 The bulk of the female sex are ‘sunk into an Animal life wholly taken up with sensible objects’.49 They think that their best achievement consists in attracting the eyes of men to their bodies. But we ‘value them too much, and our selves too little,’ Astell says, ‘if we place any part of our worth in their Opinion; and do not think our selves capable of Nobler Things than the pitiful Conquest of some worthless heart’.50 In her view, knowledge of the true nature of the self can liberate women from thinking and living as if they were mere bodily creatures. Self-knowledge can teach women the value of proper self-love: love of the mind and not love of the body. Such self-love, rightly applied, is a natural inducement to virtue, the cultivation of excellence of character.51

In The Christian Religion, Astell continues to explore the feminist implications of her metaphysics of mind and matter. She observes that true self-love should make a woman abhor the flattery of admirers, on the one hand, and welcome the honest admonition of friends, on the other.52 The first makes a woman complacent, the second spurs her on to self-improvement. A woman with true self-love will prefer the purity of her soul to that of public reputation, even to the point of offending a man by ‘breaking off conversation’ with him. ‘For she can’t well pretend any damage to her soul by this; her soul which is the only thing preferable to her reputation, and to be considered before the scandal.’53 True self-love also informs a woman that she dishonours her self whenever she takes up ‘with the base and contemptible office of making provision for the flesh, whether to fulfil its irregular appetites, or to supply its pretended necessities’.54 A true Christian woman will live ‘above the pleasures of sense, and the low concerns of the body’:

And it is not to be wondered that our holy religion requires this, for even reason will inform us, that an all-wise God could never design an immortal mind so contemptible an (p.72) employment, as the busying itself about a corruptible body. Nor is the subjecting of the body to the mind in reality a pain; on the contrary it is a pleasure, as being most agreeable to the nature and reason of things.55

In turn, as we saw in Chapter 2, this purification of the mind from the body can lead to greater wisdom and knowledge. As the soul withdraws from the body and regulates the passions, it also disengages itself from the desire of material things. Once freed from excessive worldly interest, the individual is then in a better position to discern the truth. ‘For every sin, and more particularly, impurity, pride, and worldly interest, is a prejudice that shuts out the light of truth, keeps men obstinate in error, and hardens their minds against conviction.’56 Knowledge of the true nature of the self, in short, helps to assist individual women in the attainment of truth and virtue.

4.3 Body–Soul Causation

While Astell is clear about the moral lessons to be drawn from her metaphysics of substance, she is not so clear about the nature of causal relations between the soul and body. For Astell, the two substances are undoubtedly united in the human subject. ‘Human nature is indeed a composition of mind and body, which are two distinct substances having different properties, and yet make but one person.’57 But she provides very few statements about how such different substances are capable of interaction. There is little detail about how the soul moves the body (soul–body causation) and how the body creates sensations (body–soul causation). Some commentators argue that Astell defends an occasionalist theory of body–soul causation in her later work,58 while others argue that Astell consistently occupies an orthodox Cartesian position.59

In my opinion, this point of interpretation is a reasonably significant one. If Astell is an occasionalist, then this poses a potentially serious problem for her moral philosophy as a whole—the problem of free will. Generally speaking, Malebranchean occasionalism is the view that God is the sole efficient cause of all natural phenomena, and that created beings have no genuine causal efficacy. In his Search after Truth, Malebranche argues for this theory on the grounds that (p.73) a true cause is ‘one such that the mind perceives a necessary connection between it and its effect’. Yet such a connection can exist only between ‘the will of an infinitely perfect being and its effects’.60 This is because it would be a contradiction for this being to will something and for that thing not to come about. Therefore, according to Malebranche, God must be the only true and proper cause in nature. Even the greatest minds are causally impotent: they can know nothing, sense nothing, and will nothing, unless God acts upon them.61 The Malebranchean occasionalist holds that God alone has the causal power to bring about changes or modifications in the mind. In his mature works and in his letters to Astell, Norris endorses this view: he says that ‘being the Author of our Beings [God] has the sole Power to act upon our Spirits, and to give them new Modifications’.62 The problem is that if we affirm this occasionalist thesis—that God is the only true and proper cause of all modifications in the mind—then there appears to be no logical space for freedom of the will.63

Malebranche himself addresses this difficulty by highlighting the importance of consent to his notion of freedom. Throughout his works, he expresses a strong and unswerving commitment to human free will. In order to be morally responsible for their choices and actions, he says, moral agents must have freedom of will. He allows that God has determined the will to the extent that he has given it an invincible (insurmountable) inclination to love the good in general, or God himself.64 But God has also given human beings the power to direct their natural inclinations toward particular created goods, and to devote their love to something other than God. This inclination toward particular goods is not invincible (it can be surmounted), because the will is always free not to consent to love particular objects. In order to avoid sin, Malebranche says, ‘it is of the greatest (p.74) importance to make good use of our freedom by always refraining from consenting to things and loving them until forced to do so by the powerful voice of the Author of Nature’.65 On this view, God has determined moral agents to have inclinations toward particular goods as a natural consequence of their irresistible inclination toward the good in general. But it is an agent’s own fault if she does not hold back and critically reflect on whether or not these particular objects truly merit her love. According to Malebranche, the freedom to suspend our consent to particular goods does not challenge God’s causal power because it does not create any new modification or real change in the mind.

Many scholars, however, find Malebranche’s attempts to reconcile occasionalism and free will far from convincing. Some assert that the suspension of consent must surely count as action rather than inaction, and therefore represents a new modification in the soul.66 Others point to the fact that, for Malebranche, the point of suspending our consent to particular goods is to create good habits or dispositions of mind in the moral agent.67 Yet the formation of such habits must surely give rise to real changes or modifications in the character. In short, if ‘each and every such modification of every human soul owes its existence to the direct action of God,’ Andrew Pyle says, ‘it seems impossible to find any room for human freedom’.68

The same problem might be raised for Astell’s philosophy. Like Malebranche, Astell presupposes that ordinary women are free to overcome the bodily influence of the senses and the passions on their minds. She asserts that women are capable of bringing about a transformation of moral character—a change in their mental habits and dispositions—merely by an exercise of free will. If Astell were a thoroughgoing occasionalist about the mind—if she adopted Norris’s Malebranchean view that God alone has the ‘Power and Knowledge to new modifie our Beings’69—then this is potentially incompatible with her moral commitment to freedom. Her moral and metaphysical views are potentially inconsistent.

(p.75) To resolve this issue, it is necessary to examine Astell’s explicit statements about occasionalism in her writings, to determine whether or not she gives outright endorsement to the theory. In the Letters, Astell engages with the occasionalist arguments of John Norris. In his 1693 essay, ‘A Discourse Concerning the Measure of Divine Love’, Norris argues in favour of the view that God is the only true cause of our sensations, and that bodies or material things are incapable of having a causal influence on our souls. On these grounds, he concludes that God alone deserves all our love of desire, since it is God alone who causes our sensations of pleasure. His argument begins with the Cartesian idea that there is nothing conceivable in material bodies but magnitude (size), figure (shape), and motion. On this view, there are no inherent qualities in material bodies that correspond to our sensations: there is no such thing as sweetness in sugar, fragrance in a flower, or heat and light in the sun. Such objects are composed entirely of material particles of a particular size and shape, in a certain degree of motion. According to Norris, the view that sensible qualities reside in objects themselves is merely a hangover from the unexamined prejudices of our upbringing—an obscure and confused notion rather than a clear and distinct idea. By the same logic, the view that material objects produce or cause our sensations is also an unwarranted prejudice of the senses. The mere concomitancy of our sensations with the presence of certain objects, he says, is no argument for the causal dependence of those sensations on the objects themselves.70 To support his point, Norris relies on the containment principle, or the idea that ‘whatever reality or perfection exists formally in a thing or objectively in an idea must be contained formally [that is, in a similar form] or eminently [that is, in some higher form] in its total, efficient cause’.71 On the basis of this causal principle, he maintains that an effect cannot be ‘above the Order of its Cause’.72 If material objects were the true and proper causes of our sensations, then they would have to somehow partake of the ‘perfection’ (that is, the sensation, sentiment, or thought) that they cause; yet they do not—they are thoughtless. But a thoughtless object cannot produce a thought: material things cannot produce sensations ‘which they have not, which they feel not, which they know not, and which they cannot ever cause in themselves’.73 We must therefore conclude that sugar does not have the capacity to cause the idea of sweetness in (p.76) our minds, flowers do not produce sensations of perfume, and the sun is not the true cause of our sensations of heat and light.

According to Norris, the true and proper cause of all our sensations is the will of God—or, quite simply, God himself. The cause of our sensations must be ‘a Being of infinite Understanding and Power, one that need not go abroad for his Intelligence, but sees all things immediately in him self, and produces all things by the immediate Efficacy of his Will’.74 On this view, material objects are merely the conditions or occasions that determine the nature of God’s operations. When I add sugar to my coffee, and the motion of the sugar particles makes an impression on my tongue, this is the occasion for God to give me the sensation of sweetness. When I look directly at the sun, and the motion of the sun’s rays makes an impression in my eyes, this is the occasion for God to give me the sensation of light.

In her correspondence with Norris, Astell raises two objections to this particular occasionalist theory of body–soul causation. In a final letter ‘by way of review’, dated 14 August 1694, she objects ‘First, That this Theory renders a great Part of GOD’s Workmanship vain and useless’.75 If sensible objects have no inherent power to cause sensations in our minds, she says, then they ‘have nothing in their own Nature to qualifie them to be instrumental to the Production of such and such Sensations’; they are merely ‘positive and arbitrary Conditions’ of our sensations.76 But then God may well cause the sensation of warmth in our souls without the presence of fire, because there is nothing in the nature of fire that means we must necessarily feel warmth whenever we approach it. The problem is that sensible objects appear to be unnecessary and superfluous features of creation. This does not sit well with Astell’s intellectualist conception of God as primarily rational and benevolent. An infinitely wise, perfect being who ‘does nothing in vain’ cannot be supposed to create a variety of sensible objects that serve no purpose. Second, Astell objects that Norris’s theory ‘does not well comport with [God’s] Majesty’. In her view, the existence of genuine secondary causes is more befitting the ‘Majesty of GOD, and that Order he has established in the World’, because it allows the almighty God to delegate the task of producing sensations to his ‘Servant Nature’.77

On the heels of these two objections, Astell makes a positive suggestion. ‘Why therefore may there not be a sensible Congruity,’ she says, ‘between those Powers of the Soul that are employed in Sensation, and those Objects which occasion it?’78 She likens this idea to Henry More’s concept of vital congruity in his (p.77) Immortality of the Soul. According to More, this congruity (a correspondence or harmony) between the soul and body unites or ‘ties’ the two together in the living human subject.79 Whenever this vital congruity is absent, the soul and body are no longer united together as one, as in the case of mortality (when the human being dies). By analogy, according to Astell, whenever a sensible congruity is absent, the soul is no longer capable of receiving sensations from the body, as in the case of blindness or deafness.80 On this view, there is still no such thing as a thought, sentiment, or sensation in material bodies. Yet bodies nevertheless have ‘a Congruity in them by their Presence to draw forth such Sensations in the Soul’.81 In short, with this hypothesis, Astell implies that there is a natural power in bodies to cause sensations in the soul. Provided that this sensible congruity exists between my body and soul, then fire genuinely has the power to cause the sensation of warmth in me whenever I approach it; sugar genuinely has the power to draw forth sensations of sweetness; and the sun genuinely has the power to produce the sensations of heat and light. This theory avoids the aforementioned difficulties because material things are necessary instruments and not arbitrary or superfluous features of God’s creation. Here, in short, Astell favours an interactionist theory of body–soul causation as an alternative to Norris’s non-interactionist occasionalism.

The question now arises: does Astell change her position in her later works, the Proposal and The Christian Religion?

In the second part of the Proposal, it must be said, Astell does not explicitly revive her theory of sensible congruity when she details the relationship between the soul and the body. She does, however, make remarks that would appear to be consistent with the orthodox Cartesian position concerning body–soul causation, the view that material things do really cause our sensations by producing certain motions in the brain. To support this point, Eileen O’Neill highlights the fact that Astell espouses the Cartesian theory of ‘animal spirits’, those tiny material particles responsible for conveying sense impressions to the immaterial mind via the brain’s pineal gland.82 In one passage of the second Proposal, Astell says (p.78) that ‘several Impressions on the Body are communicated to, and affect the Soul, all this being perform’d by the means of the Animal Spirits’.

The Active Powers of the Soul, her Will and Inclinations are at her own dispose, her Passive are not, she can’t avoid feeling Pain or other sensible Impressions so long as she’s united to a Body, and that Body is dispos’d to convey these Impressions. And when outward Objects occasion such Commotions in the Bloud and Animal Spirits, as are attended with those Perceptions in the Soul which we call the Passions, she can’t be insensible of or avoid ’em, being no more able to prevent these first Impressions than she is to stop the Circulation of the Bloud, or to hinder Digestion.83

Nevertheless, I think that this picture of body–soul relations is also consistent with Norris’s occasionalist account of sensation. Norris himself allows the existence of animal spirits in the body.84 Unlike Descartes, however, he holds that the movements of the animal spirits in the brain are merely the occasions for God to cause sensations in the mind. Though these spirits might ‘serve to excite them’, strictly speaking, they are not the true and proper causes of those sensations. In light of Norris’s stance on animal spirits, the above passage from the Proposal might be read either way. Astell’s references to animal spirits do not necessarily provide evidence for her continuing commitment to body–soul interactionism, as O’Neill suggests they do.

Let us now turn to The Christian Religion. Derek Taylor asserts that, in this work, Astell offers unequivocal evidence in support of Norris’s occasionalist theory of causation. In particular, Taylor points to two passages that seemingly amount to defences of occasionalism. ‘One often overlooked aspect of Astell’s concluding demur in the Letters,’ Taylor notes, ‘is that it is not the conclusion at all—the text ends with Norris’s response.’85 In his view, Astell was convinced by Norris’s rejoinder to her final letter concerning sensible congruity. In that rejoinder, Norris further denies that material objects have any power to produce sensations in our souls. A few years later, in his Theory of the Ideal or Intelligible World, Norris repeats the same point, but concedes that there is some sense in which sensible objects are more than ‘purely Positive and Arbitrary Conditions’ (p.79) of our sensations.86 On the one hand, they are merely arbitrary in the sense that there is no necessary connection between their impressions on our body and the sensations in our soul. ‘For most assuredly there is nothing in those Impressions that either resembles the following Sensations, or that Naturally and Necessarily infers them.’87 On the other hand, they are not merely arbitrary and positive because God has a ‘greater reason’ for causing a sensation in the soul upon the impression from a body: the good or preservation of the human machine or body. God gives me the sentiment he does because it is his will that I should avoid injurious impressions made by sensible objects.

Taylor asserts that ‘without doubt’ Astell had Norris’s final rebuttal in mind when she wrote her ‘defenses of occasionalism’ in The Christian Religion.88 In the first passage, Taylor points out, Astell maintains that the efficacy of the divine will is responsible for the causation of sensations in the mind. She says of God that

it is for very good reasons that He has so united a corruptible body to an immortal mind, that the impressions which are made on the former, shall be perceived and attended with certain sensations in the other, and this by ways altogether mysterious and incomprehensible, and only to be resolved into the efficacy of the divine will. The body then may be of great service to us, if we know how to employ it according to the design of our maker.89

Here Astell’s claims are certainly compatible with the occasionalist view that God brings about certain sensations in the mind upon the occasion of certain sensible objects making an impression on the body. Like Norris, she appeals to God’s ‘very good reasons’ or ‘design’ for producing sensations in our minds in response to the impressions of sensible objects.

Nevertheless, O’Neill points out (rightly, I think) that Astell’s remarks about ‘the efficacy of the divine will’ can also be accommodated by an orthodox Cartesian account of sensation. Descartes himself claims that the fact that the brain affects the mind, and causes sensations that are conducive to the preservation of the body, bears witness to ‘the power and goodness of God’.90 When Astell refers to God’s ‘efficacy’, she too may be referring to God’s capacity to ensure the preservation of the body by the simplest and most effective means (the brain’s effect on the soul). It is not clear, then, that the above passage provides sufficient evidence of Astell’s conversion to occasionalism, the view that God is the sole efficient cause of our sensations.

(p.80) In the second passage of The Christian Religion, however, Astell seemingly expresses a much stronger commitment to occasionalism. In §378, she says that

Having therefore upon your mind that truly rational and sublime pleasure, of approving yourself to God and enjoying Him, you are not at leisure to attend the little poignancy of meat and drink, though the health and soundness of your constitution makes these as relishing to you as to anybody. If meditation and a just disquisition of truth has carried you beyond the prejudices of sense, you are convinced that God is the true efficient cause of all our good, of all our pleasing sensations, and that without any reflection on the purity of His nature. You look through the creature to the creator as the author of all your delight, and thus every morsel gives a double pleasure, considering the hand that feeds you, or to speak more correctly, the power of God giving you diverse modifications.91

It is difficult to ignore the occasionalist overtones of this passage. Astell allows that, when speaking correctly, my pleasing sensations are really ‘diverse modifications’ of the mind brought about by God’s causal power.92 While Astell does not affirm that God is the sole efficient cause of all our pleasing sensations, she does imply that creatures are not true causes or authors of our delight. She also echoes Norris’s language in the ‘Discourse’: once the ‘prejudice of sense’ is removed, he says in this essay, it is not difficult to be persuaded that God alone is ‘the true Efficient Cause’ of our sensations.93

Notwithstanding such similarities, in my view, this passage still provides insufficient evidence of Astell’s commitment to occasionalism. To grasp this point, it is necessary for us to observe the wider context of Astell’s aforementioned remarks about God being ‘the true efficient cause’ of our sensations. These remarks come on the heels of Astell’s response to Damaris Masham’s criticisms of Norris’s view that we are obliged to love God alone with a love of desire. Masham (1659–1708) was the daughter of the Cambridge Platonist, Ralph Cudworth, and one of John Locke’s closest companions in the final years of his life.94 (p.81) She also seems to have known Norris personally. In 1688, Norris dedicated his Theory and Regulation of Love to Masham, praising her as someone of ‘extraordinary Genius’.95 Then, in 1690 he addressed his Reflections upon the Conduct of Human Life to ‘the Excellent Lady, the Lady Masham’, exhorting her to abandon her pursuit of learning and knowledge, following her supposed loss of eyesight.96 Masham’s first published work, A Discourse concerning the Love of God, appeared in early 1697.97 In this text, Masham attacks the moral and metaphysical views of Norris’s Practical Discourses (1693) and his 1693–4 letters to Astell. She argues that Norris’s theory of the love of God renders the duties of a moral life impracticable. Human beings simply do not have the constitution to withdraw their affections from material things and other people; they are best suited to the duties of a sociable life, not a life of abstract contemplation. For some people, she says, a religious theory that requires impossible performances—such as complete emotional disengagement from the world—will lead them to abandon religion altogether as ridiculous and nonsensical. Whereas for others, the same religious theory will drive them to live in ‘Monasteries, and Hermitages; with all those Sottish and Wicked Superstitions which have accompanied them where-ever they have been in use’.98 These people will see, as Masham claims Malebranche himself does, that it is impossible to love God alone without removing themselves from ‘the Commerce and Conversation of the World’.99

(p.82) In her Christian Religion of 1705, Astell’s addresses Masham’s critical remarks.100 Not surprisingly, Astell takes a number of Masham’s disparaging comments as criticisms of her own moral opinions.101 Like Norris, she too extols the benefits of a contemplative life, a life withdrawn from the hurry and noise of the world, and of disengagement from the love of material things and other people. Astell’s supposed defence of occasionalism forms part of her response to Masham. She begins §378 with a supposition for the addressee of The Christian Religion, her friend Lady Catherine Jones. ‘Suppose your Ladyship, or any other good Christian,’ Astell says, ‘is addicted to study.’ And let us suppose that study pleases her because it puts her in the possession of truth, or of her true good, God himself. During the course of study,

Your spirits fail and you grow faint, you eat and drink, or if they like it better, you love to eat and drink upon this occasion; and why so? Not for the mere pleasure of eating and drinking, this, I may say without “rhapsody,” were below a rational, much more a Christian mind. Though it is certain you feel pleasure in it, and you thank God for it, since by this easy sensible way, without engaging yourself in the troublesome examination of the state of your body and the suitableness of the nourishment, you eat and drink what will support it. But you do this only to keep your body in health that it may be able to serve your mind, that both may serve their redeemer, in which service all your happiness consists. And as great pains usually withdraw our attention from little ones, so do greater pleasures extinguish our sense of the lesser.102

This lady continues her meditations in this way, Astell says, and she is ‘carried beyond the prejudices of sense’ and persuaded that God is the ‘true efficient cause’ of all her good, and of all her pleasing sensations. Astell then asks: where is (p.83) the hurt of all this? Why should anyone think that such a contemplative life is ‘destructive of all religion, and even of morality’?103 In short, here she offers a supposition for the sake of argument. There is no positive defence of occasionalism in this passage, or a declarative statement in support of the view that ‘God is the true efficient cause’ of sensations. She merely denies Masham’s negative claim that the Malebranchean philosophy logically leads to either atheism or enthusiasm. Toward this end, Astell reiterates her favourite point about Malebranchean philosophy more generally: the idea that, regardless of whether or not it is true, it is conducive to a wise, virtuous, and happy Christian life. In a later paragraph, Astell says

But certainly the way of using the world mentioned in the 378th paragraph, is more like to restrain us from abusing it, than if we should say to ourselves, why may not we “satisfy” our “natural cravings” with the “good things of this world,” which as we learn from the “common sense and experience of mankind,” as well as from the Discourses of great men, “were given to be enjoyed”?104

The contemplative life enables one to avoid a materialistic lifestyle and instant gratification of desires, in favour of spiritual goods and long-term benefits. Herein lies one of the chief benefits of a female monastery, Astell says, or ‘a reasonable provision for the education of one half of mankind’.105 A quiet life of contemplation can provide a young woman with the rules for thinking and the purity and prayer required to attain wisdom and virtue. Where is the harm in that?

Earlier I stated that if Astell is a Malebranchean occasionalist, then this potentially raises the problem of free will for her moral philosophy as a whole. There is no positive textual evidence, however, that Astell actively endorses occasionalism in any of her works. In those passages where she writes approvingly about occasionalism, she merely emphasizes its compatibility with a moral and religious life. This is all apiece with Astell’s other writings on metaphysical subjects. In her arguments, she never loses sight of the ultimate moral benefit of contemplation on the immaterial and immortal nature of the self. More importantly, she always affirms a woman’s ability to use her free will to raise herself up, to direct her mind’s attention to the best things, and to acquire a certain ‘greatness of soul’ through her voluntary efforts.

Thus far, we have discussed the foundations of Astell’s philosophy, or the epistemological, theological, and metaphysical presuppositions upon which her moral theory is built. Let us now turn to the heart of that theory itself.


(1) Mary Astell, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Parts I and II, ed. Patricia Springborg (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2002), 210.

(2) For many seventeenth-century thinkers, the term ‘self-love’ can have purely negative connotations. For Astell, however, the term can be both negative and positive: it can mean mistaken or ‘vicious’ self-love in the sense of a petty, selfish concern for one’s body; or it can be proper or true self-love in the sense of a willing of good to one’s soul. On this distinction, see Mary Astell, The Christian Religion, as Professed by a Daughter of the Church of England, ed. Jacqueline Broad, The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe: Toronto Series (Toronto, ON: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies and Iter Publishing, 2013), §203. For an entirely negative view of female self-love, see the anonymous A Farther Essay Relating to the Female-Sex: Containing Six Characters, and Six Perfections. With the Description of Self-Love (London: A. Roper and E. Wilkinson, 1696), 72–103.

(3) Astell, Christian Religion, §237.

(4) Ibid., §254.

(5) Richard Acworth, The Philosophy of John Norris of Bemerton (1657–1712) (New York: Georg Olms Verlag Hildesheim, 1979), 178; E. Derek Taylor, ‘Mary Astell’s Ironic Assault on John Locke’s Theory of Matter’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 62/3 (2001), 511–12; and Sarah Ellenzweig, ‘The Love of God and the Radical Enlightenment: Mary Astell’s Brush with Spinoza’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 64/3 (2003), 382.

(6) Eileen O’Neill, ‘Mary Astell on the Causation of Sensation’, in William Kolbrener and Michal Michelson, eds., Mary Astell: Reason, Gender, Faith (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007), 145–63.

(7) Some commentators have confusingly branded Astell an ‘idealist’. See Ruth Perry, The Celebrated Mary Astell: An Early English Feminist (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1986), 71, 77; and Springborg, introduction in Astell, Proposal I and II, 35. I do not discuss Astell’s idealism here because she is not a metaphysical idealist in George Berkeley’s sense of someone who denies the existence of material things, or asserts that material things exist only as ideas in the mind. She is an idealist only insofar as she regards the ideas in our minds as reflective of a necessary, eternal, and immutable realm of ideas, and she sees our knowledge and happiness as lying in contemplation of this ideal world.

(8) Astell, Christian Religion, §227.

(9) Astell, Christian Religion, §229.

(10) Of course, in theory, God might be able to destroy this being, but he is unlikely to annihilate something he has created: ‘For He does nothing in vain, and can’t be supposed to make a creature with a design to destroy or unmake it’ (Astell, Christian Religion, §227).

(11) Mary Astell and John Norris, Letters Concerning the Love of God, ed. E. Derek Taylor and Melvyn New (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2005), 88.

(12) Astell, Proposal II, 173.

(13) Astell, Christian Religion, §226.

(14) John Norris, An Essay Towards the Theory of the Ideal or Intelligible World. Being the Relative Part of it. Wherein the Intelligible World is consider’d with relation to Human Understanding. Whereof some Account is here attempted and proposed. Part II (London: S. Manship and W. Hawes, 1704), 5 and see also 109, 111, 252, 279. For similar sentiments in Malebranche, see Nicolas Malebranche, The Search After Truth, trans. and ed. Thomas M. Lennon and Paul J. Olscamp, Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 198–202.

(15) Astell, Christian Religion, §229.

(16) John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), IV.iii.6.

(17) Locke, Essay, IV.iii.6.

(18) On this topic, see John Yolton, Thinking Matter: Materialism in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983).

(19) On Astell’s critique of Locke’s ‘thinking matter’, see Kathleen M. Squadrito, ‘Mary Astell’s Critique of Locke’s View of Thinking Matter’, Journal of History of Philosophy, 25 (1987), 433–9; Kathleen M. Squadrito, ‘Mary Astell’, in Mary Ellen Waithe, ed., A History of Women Philosophers, 4 vols (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991), iii, 87–99; and Taylor, ‘Astell’s Ironic Assault’.

(20) William Parry to George Ballard, 12 February 1743; quoted in George Ballard, Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain (Who have been Celebrated for their Writings or Skill in the Learned Languages, Arts and Sciences), intro. and ed. Ruth Perry (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1985), 389.

(21) Locke, Essay, IV.iii.29.

(22) Astell, Christian Religion, §388.

(23) See Margaret Dauler Wilson, Descartes (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), 186.

(24) René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, Dugald Murdoch, and Anthony Kenny, 3 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985–91), ii, 54.

(25) Astell, Christian Religion, §228.

(26) Taylor is right to say that ‘Astell makes no direct appeal to [Norris] in her critique of Locke’s view of thinking matter’ (Taylor, ‘Astell’s Ironic Assault’, 521). But despite her lack of explicit acknowledgement, in §§228–9 of The Christian Religion, Astell closely follows (sometimes almost verbatim) Norris’s way of arguing against Locke’s idea (see Norris, Theory II, 1–57).

(27) Norris, Theory II, 19.

(28) Ibid., 21.

(29) Ibid., 23.

(30) Ibid., 20.

(31) Ibid., 25.

(32) Astell, Christian Religion, §229. See Norris, Theory II: ‘to suppose thought to be contained in the idea of matter, notwithstanding this ideal diversity between a thinking and an extended being, would be all one as if you should suppose that a circle should have the property of a triangle’ (47).

(33) Astell, Christian Religion, §231.

(34) Ibid.

(35) Ibid., §229.

(36) Ibid., §388.

(37) Ibid., §387.

(38) Ibid., §388. Of course, Astell allows, it is still possible that an omnipotent God may do the logically impossible—he may endue matter with thought. But in the search for knowledge, we do not consider what God may do; rather, we consider ‘the perception of the agreement or disagreement of ideas’. If we allow that God may do the logically impossible, ‘then there’s an end of knowledge’ (Ibid., §392).

(39) Ibid., §230.

(40) Ibid., §230.

(41) Ibid., §225.

(42) Astell asserts that we must not love other people with a selfish love of desire (a desire to possess or unite with them), but rather by wishing well toward their souls. On this topic, see Chapter 6 on ‘Love’ in this volume.

(43) Astell, Christian Religion, §224.

(44) I discuss Astell’s views about our duties to our selves as part of the Christian community in Chapter 6 on ‘Love’ in this volume.

(45) Astell, Christian Religion, §225.

(46) Ibid., §243.

(47) Astell, Proposal I, 52–3.

(48) Astell, Proposal I and II, 94, 215.

(49) Astell, Proposal II, 126.

(50) Astell, Proposal I, 55–6.

(51) Astell, Proposal II, 211.

(52) Astell, Christian Religion, §203.

(53) Ibid., §196.

(54) Ibid., §271.

(55) Ibid., §307.

(56) Ibid., §258.

(57) Ibid., §272.

(58) Acworth, Philosophy of John Norris, 178; Taylor, ‘Astell’s Ironic Assault’, 511–12; Ellenzweig, ‘The Love of God’, 382.

(59) O’Neill, ‘Astell on the Causation of Sensation’.

(60) Malebranche, Search After Truth, 450.

(61) Ibid., 449.

(62) Astell and Norris, Letters, 133. To be clear, however, for Norris the occasionalist theory of causation applies only to soul–body and body–soul relations, not to body–body relations. He allows that bodies can have a causal effect on each other through impact and resistance. By contrast, Malebranche’s occasionalism is global: it is a theory about body–body relations as well as soul–body and body–soul ‘interaction’.

(63) On the problem of reconciling Malebranche’s philosophy with freedom of the will, see Elmar J. Kremer, ‘Malebranche on Human Freedom’, in Steven Nadler, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Malebranche (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 190–219; Andrew Pessin, ‘Malebranche’s Doctrine of Freedom/Consent and the Incompleteness of God’s Volitions’, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 8/1 (2000), 21–53; Andrew Pyle, Malebranche (London and New York: Routledge, 2003), chapter 9; Tad M. Schmaltz, Malebranche’s Theory of the Soul: A Cartesian Interpretation (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), chapter 6; Sean Greenberg, ‘Things That Undermine Each Other: Occasionalism, Freedom, and Attention in Malebranche’, Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy, 4 (2008), 113–40; and Susan Peppers-Bates, Nicolas Malebranche: Freedom in an Occasionalist World (London and New York: Continuum, 2009).

(64) Malebranche, Search After Truth, 5.

(65) Ibid., 11.

(66) See, for example, Kremer, ‘Malebranche on Human Freedom’, 214; and Pyle, Malebranche, 226. Taking a different approach, Sean Greenberg highlights the importance of the notion of attention, rather than consent, at the heart of Malebranche’s concept of freedom. He concludes that ‘occasionalism and attention undermine each other’: the attribution of the mastery of attention to agents cannot be reconciled with a commitment to occasionalism (Greenberg, ‘Things That Undermine’, 117).

(67) See Pyle, Malebranche, 232–3.

(68) Ibid., 210. Pyle says that the problem of free will is ‘perhaps the most intractable problem in Malebranche’s philosophy’ (Ibid., 209).

(69) Astell and Norris, Letters, 134.

(70) John Norris, ‘Discourse Concerning the Measure of Divine Love’, in Practical Discourses Upon Several Divine Subjects (London: S. Manship, 1693), 23.

(71) I borrow this helpful definition from Eileen O’Neill, ‘Mind–Body Interaction and Metaphysical Consistency: A Defense of Descartes’, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 25/2 (1987), 227–45 (230).

(72) Norris, ‘Discourse’, 31.

(73) Ibid., 33.

(74) Ibid., 54.

(75) Astell and Norris, Letters, 131.

(76) Ibid., 131.

(77) Ibid., 131, 132.

(78) Ibid., 132.

(79) Henry More, The Immortality of the Soul; So farre forth as it is demonstrable from the Knowledge of Nature and the Light of Reason (London: J. Flesher, 1659; facs. edn, Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1997), 263–4.

(80) Astell and Norris, Letters, 132. Here I revise my former view that Astell endorses More’s theory of the spirit of nature in her correspondence with Norris. See Jacqueline Broad, Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 108. I agree that Astell intends for her idea of sensible congruity to be analogous to, rather than identical with, More’s theory. For this point, I am indebted to O’Neill, ‘Astell on the Causation of Sensation’, 155–9.

(81) Astell and Norris, Letters, 132.

(82) O’Neill, ‘Astell on the Causation of Sensation’, 160.

(83) Astell, Proposal II, 213–14.

(84) Norris, Theory II: ‘tho the Brain does not perceive it self, nor is yet the immediate Object of that which does, yet by virtue of that Law of Union which is between Soul and Body, certain Impressions upon some parts of the Brain…are connected with certain Perceptions in the Mind, and accordingly serve to excite them. I suppose again that those Movements or Impressions to which our Perceptions are annex’d, are communicated to the Brain by the Mediation of the Nerves’ (198–9) or, as he says later, ‘by the Course or Flux of the Animal Spirits’ (199).

(85) Taylor, ‘Astell’s Ironic Assault’, 512.

(86) Norris, Theory II, 234. Here Norris explicitly addresses Astell’s sensible congruity objection once again, a fact that is yet to be remarked upon in the literature.

(87) Ibid., 235. Compare Astell and Norris, Letters: ‘For most assuredly there is nothing in those Motions that either answers the following Sensations, or naturally and necessarily infers them’ (137).

(88) Taylor, ‘Astell’s Ironic Assault’, 512.

(89) Astell, Christian Religion, §305; my italics.

(90) Descartes, Meditations, 60.

(91) Astell, Christian Religion, §378.

(92) Taylor specifically highlights this point (see ‘Astell’s Ironic Assault’, 512).

(93) Norris, ‘Discourse’, 49, 20, 36, and 56.

(94) On Damaris Masham, see Luisa Simonutti, ‘Damaris Cudworth Masham: una Lady della Repubblica delle Lettere’, in Scritti in Onore di Eugenio Garin (Pisa: Scuola Normale Superiore, 1987), 141–65; Lois Frankel, ‘Damaris Masham: A Seventeenth-Century Feminist Philosopher’, Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, 4/1 (1989), 80–90; Lois Frankel, ‘Damaris Cudworth Masham’, in Mary Ellen Waithe, ed., A History of Women Philosophers, 4 vols (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991), iii, 73–85; Sarah Hutton, ‘Damaris Cudworth, Lady Masham: Between Platonism and Enlightenment’, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 1/1 (1993), 29–54; Broad, Women Philosophers, chapter 5; James G. Buickerood, ‘What Is It With Damaris, Lady Masham? The Historiography of One Early Modern Woman Philosopher’, Locke Studies, 5 (2005), 179–214; Robert C. Sleigh, ‘Reflections on the Masham–Leibniz correspondence’, in Christia Mercer and Eileen O’Neill, eds., Early Modern Philosophy: Mind, Matter, and Metaphysics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 119–26; Jacqueline Broad, ‘A Woman’s Influence? John Locke and Damaris Masham on Moral Accountability’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 67/3 (2006), 489–510; Pauline Phemister, ‘“All the Time and Everywhere Everything’s the Same as Here”: The Principle of Uniformity in the Correspondence between Leibniz and Lady Masham’, in Paul Lodge, ed., Leibniz and his Correspondents (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 193–213; Marcy P. Lascano, ‘Damaris Masham and “The Law of Reason or Nature”’, The Modern Schoolman, 88/3–4 (2011), 245–65; and Sarah Hutton, ‘Debating the Faith: Damaris Masham (1658–1708) and Religious Controversy’, in Anne Dunan-Page and Clotilde Prunier, eds., Debating the Faith: Religion and Letter Writing in Great Britain, 15501800 (Dordrecht: Springer, 2013), 159–75.

(95) John Norris, The Theory and Regulation of Love. A Moral Essay. In Two Parts. To which are added Letters Philosophical and Moral between the Author and Dr Henry More (Oxford: Printed at the Theatre for Hen. Clements, 1688), ii–v.

(96) John Norris, Reflections upon the Conduct of Human Life: With reference to the Study of Learning and Knowledge. In a Letter to the Excellent Lady, the Lady Masham (London: S. Manship, 1690), sig. A4.

(97) [Damaris Masham], Discourse concerning the Love of God (London: Awnsham and John Churchill, 1696). The title page is dated 1696, but this work did not appear in print until Hilary term (i.e., February) in 1697. See Edward Arber, The Term Catalogues, 16681709 A.D.; with a Number for Easter Term, 1711 A.D., 3 vols (London: Professor Edward Arber, 1903–6), iii, 1.

(98) Masham, Discourse, 120.

(99) Ibid., 121.

(100) There are several recent studies of Astell’s response to Masham. See Patricia Springborg, ‘Astell, Masham, and Locke: Religion and Politics’, in Hilda L. Smith, ed., Women Writers and the Early Modern British Political Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 105–25; Taylor, ‘Astell’s Ironic Assault’; Jacqueline Broad, ‘Adversaries or Allies? Occasional Thoughts on the Masham–Astell Exchange’, Eighteenth-Century Thought, 1 (2003), 123–49; Catherine Wilson, ‘Love of God and Love of Creatures: The Masham–Astell Debate’, History of Philosophy Quarterly, 21/3 (2004), 281–98; Buickerood, ‘What Is It With Damaris, Lady Masham?’; O’Neill, ‘Astell on the Causation of Sensation’; Catherine Wilson, ‘Love of God and Love of Creatures: the Masham–Astell Exchange’, in Gábor Boros, Herman De Dijn, and Martin Moors, eds., The Concept of Love in 17th and 18th Century Philosophy (Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press; Budapest, Hungary: Eötvös University Press, 2007), 125–39; and Joanne E. Myers, ‘Enthusiastic Improvement: Mary Astell and Damaris Masham on Sociability’, Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, 28/3 (2013), 534–50.

(101) James Buickerood observes that Astell does so, despite the fact that ‘there are no clear references or allusions to or quotations from Astell in Masham’s Discourse’; see Buickerood, ‘What Is It With Damaris, Lady Masham?’, 213. In her Discourse, Masham does, however, make one disparaging reference to a ‘young Writer, whose Judgment may, perhaps, be Byassed by the Affectation of Novelty’ (Masham, Discourse, 78)—she likely has Astell in mind.

(102) Astell, Christian Religion, §378.

(103) Ibid.

(104) Ibid., §383.

(105) Ibid., §379.