Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797).  A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.  1792.




We're interested in Wollstonecraft and A Vindication for a couple reasons:

1) This is the first philosophic treatise on "Feminism", and it essentially defines the concept, even in our own time; if you want to understand what Feminism means or is, start here

2) She is the mother of Mary Godwin Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, and understanding Wollstonecraft's philosophy goes a long way to helping us understand Frankenstein

3) You should now be able to see that Wollstonecraft's argument and Feminism are the natural and logical outgrowth from Locke's theory of tabula rasa and, therefore, Jefferson's conception of equality in our Declaration



Wollstonecraft writes from the perspective as an educator, as a teacher.  Recall that there were few private schools and no "public schools" in England or elsewhere at this time, even for boys, much less for women, and so education happened at home, where women like Wollstonecraft would work as a governess/tutor, "educating" upper class girls.


At this time, upper class women were educated to become wives and wives only, so education would have focused heavily on "refinement": skills such as playing music and singing, dancing, needlecraft etc.


The Vindication is the first of many works we'll read this semester that show Locke's tabula rasa philosophy ricocheting through history in ways he couldn't have imagined.


Brief highlights of Vindication Intro


Locke:  Tabula rasa: No innate ideas.


Knowledge comes from “sensation and reflection”: experience and thinking about experience.





a) All people are created “born” equal: 

Intelligence is not genetic. 

Knowledge is not Platonic: not innate: born with our soul.


b) This in turn displaces both church and aristocracy:

            One's moral goodness is not a function of "sin" or "nobility" (breading/geneology) but of education.


c) Differences between human beings thus explained as not innate:
            Gender differences: “false refinement”; false education:  we are the products of our environment

            Race, ethnicity and gender are no longer seen as factors determining not only intelligence, but other differences in human characteristics


d) Therefore, this implies the key role of education in the function of a democratic republic:

            Why, according to Cacambo, do people have sex with monkeys?

            Why, according to Wollstonecraft are women stupid and overly sensitive?

            What is the key to a republic?  (see Jefferson On Education)

            Idaho State Constitution: Article IX: Education