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Mary Astell on female education and the sorrow of marriage (philosopher of the month)

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Mary Astell is widely considered one of the first and foremost English feminists. Her pioneering writings address female education and autonomy in the early modern period and had a profound influence on later generation of feminists.Astell was born into a middle class family in 1666. Her father was Newcastle coal merchant who died when she was twelve, leaving the family debt-ridden. Though lacking formal academic training, she was educated by uncle, a former Anglican minister. In her teens, she suffered from a deep depression, writing poems to convey her melancholy and frustration at the limited prospects for academic careers women faced.  At twenty, she left home for London, where she lived mainly in Chelsea, with very little money. Falling into another depression, she wrote to William Sancrof, the archbishop of Canterbury, appealing for help. He was impressed by her intelligence and assisted her financially. He also gave her important contacts. She became acquainted with a circle of intelligent and aristocratic women including Mary Chudleigh, Judith Drake, Elizabeth Elstob, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and Elizabeth Thomas, who became her friends, admirers and patrons.Astell was influenced by French Platonist and Neo-Cartesian philosopher Nicolas Malebranche (1638–1714) and his English follower John Norris (1657–1711). She was also influenced by René Descartes (1596–1650). She engaged in the debates with the philosophical greats of her days such as John Locke, George Berkeley, John Norris, and Earl of Shaftesbury on major philosophical problems: epistemology, the existence of God, nature of soul and body and the boundary of faith and reason. She disagreed with John Locke on his empiricist conception of thought and was a critic of his philosophical and religious ideas in his famous work, Essay concerning Human Understanding.Astell’s best-known feminist works are Serious Proposal to the Ladies (Part 1, 1694; Part 2, 1697) and Some Reflections upon. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

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