Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation describes and analyses several different approaches to the relation between individuals and wider social groupings in the work of Margaret Cavendish, Sophie de Grouchy, Gabrielle Suchon, Mary Wollstonecraft, and other women of the early modern period in Europe. From these disparate sources—Cavendish’s vitalist metaphysics, Suchon’s practical ethics, Wollstonecraft’s polemical aesthetics—a unifying political concern can be drawn: one of how individuals relate to their societies, and how this relation can be distorted or outright controlled by existing power relations.
Each chapter approaches this subject from a different side: the tension of individual freedom and universal order in Cavendish’s metaphysics; the problem of autonomy for socially-constituted subjects in Suchon’s ethics and, by contrast, in the ethics of contemporary relational autonomy theory; the revolutionary solutions to the gendered traps of aesthetic ideology presented by Mary Wollstonecraft; and the practical, activist route to the achievement of freedom in the actions of the radical republican women of the French Revolution.
In analysing the political bases of these questions I aim to provide new interpretations of these works of the early modern era, many of which have been unjustly neglected until very recently. But I also motivate changes in the methodology of early modern philosophy that are ongoing and that, I hope, can be pushed yet further. By focusing on the political in early modern women philosopher’s work, and by reading that work politically, I argue, we can effect a wider break with older methodologies and open up many new avenues of inquiry.
Ball, Patrick Leon Ward, "Freedom, Society, And The Individual In Early Modern Women's Thought" (2019). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 3248.