Date of Award

2020

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Philosophy

First Advisor

Karen E. Detlefsen

Abstract

This dissertation offers accounts and analyses of relations which function as means of epistemic, moral, and political transformation in the works of early modern women philosophers. Each chapter addresses a different relation, including prejudice, custom, conversation, friendship, and marriage. I draw on the works of Marie de Gournay, Anton Wilhelm Amo, Mary Astell, Madeleine de Scudéry, and Mary Wollstonecraft, among other philosophers. Though the project of recovering the works of historically understudied early modern philosophers is well underway, relatively little attention has been paid to the social and relational aspects of their philosophical writing. I aim to contribute to this movement by way of foregrounding this oft-overlooked dimension of their epistemological, moral, and political projects. This sheds new light on our history, helps correct for an historical injustice, and offers us new knowledge and ways of thinking applicable to our contemporary concerns. Gournay and Amo offer accounts of prejudice that can help us tackle practical concerns with the uptake of testimony. Astell’s discussion of bad custom as a socio-structural explanation for some of the harms 17th and 18th century women faced reveals a notion of epistemic injustice which not only anticipates 20th century philosophical developments but also has not yet been captured by contemporary philosophers. Scudéry theorizes about conversation as a means to cultivate virtue and provide informal education so as to make up for women’s lack of access to formal education. Astell offers a rich theory of friendship which can provide women with the means to obtain relational autonomy despite hostile social circumstances. Similarly, Wollstonecraft has a political conception of marriage that is both a vehicle for a strikingly modern social structural critique and which also offers a means by which we can change marriage and society more broadly. The final chapter of the dissertation is about narratives and particularly the claim that it would be helpful to conceive of the canons of philosophy and its subdisciplines as stories. Understanding canons as narratives allows us to see their power and how we might improve them by way of changing the way we include genres and teaching methods.

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Available to all on Saturday, June 10, 2023

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