Sunday, May 10, 2009

05 Mary Astell

When we discussed Descartes in our 100 Philosophers project we learnt that he was the founder of 'modern' philosophy. Descartes gave the human being an independent mind and a body. And he demonstrated a method of sytematic doubt to show how he had come to that conclusion. Then we moved on the next great mind.

In my research for our present project I discover, that I am no longer dealing with the innovative great philosophers but with the second echelon: those people that were swept away by the originality of the new philosophy and tried to apply it in their own thinking.

The impact of Descartes' ideas much have been massive in his time. An example of how his 'rationalism' was applied in the Querelle des Femmes: (Fight about women)

In 1673 François Poullain de la Barre(1647-1723), a disciple of Descartes, presented his case by publishing De l'Egalite des deux Sexes (Equality of the two sexes). Poullain's approach in this treatise is an excellent example of the kind of applied Cartesian rationalism that was becoming popular in France in his day.

Starting from a position of "systematic doubt," Poullain rejects the traditions and assumptions that customarily promote belief in the inequality of the sexes and accepts only those characterizations of men and women that are "clear and distinct ideas."

Starting from a position of "systematic doubt," Poullain rejects the traditions and assumptions that customarily promote belief in the inequality of the sexes and accepts only those characterizations of men and women that are "clear and distinct ideas."

With the same method Mary Astell approached the question regarding the position of the woman. She took over the basic ideas of Cartesianism and used them in her philosophy concerning the position of women in society.

Mary Astell was as religious as Anne Maria van Verschuur. Verschuur even met Descartes in person and exchanged letters with him, but she never adopted any of the cartesian ideas. Mary Astell did and found in the mind - body dualism the superb justification for the equality of men and women, like Poullain de la Barre also had.

It is remarkable to see, how Mary Astell used exactly the same strategy as Anna Maria van Verschuur, to plead for education for women. Just imagine her situation in those days, and of course we are talking here about the educated upperclass, that means 50% educated.

Imagine a party where men and women get together and socialize. The men had studied at universities, read books, and so on. The women cant even read or write, or barely. How could these two groups integrate. In what way were women interesting (partners) for men in those days.

Mary Astell felt a compassionate contempt for the insignificance of the life of illiterate women, convinced as she was that the only decoratvie role, which was standard for women of her social class, would only promote immorality.

As she wrote: "Parents may have taught them in their cathechism and a few good textst, and taught them even to read some chapter and say their prayers with probably as less understanding as a parrot"

Where Verschuur is mainly theological in her argument that women should get educated to become more devout, Mary Astell uses the full power of rationalist reasoning with the same objective: all is aimed at elevating the woman to a higher level of devoution.

And no men in her days would dare to contradict that goal. Thus, like Verschuur, she had a strong argument for education for women, but she went on. She applied new ideas of Descartes and like Poullain she demonstrated that women have equally to men a ratio.

Astell's account of the mind–body union allows her to argue against the popular view of the period about women, according to which women do not demonstrate the same kinds of intellectual abilities as do men because women are inherently more closely united to their bodies than are men .

This ratio means that women, by nature, are able to make their own choices and that women, by nature, are not fit to the submission, which is based on a supposed intellectual superiority of men.

In the Stanford Encyclopedia is a long and detailed article on the rationalist philosophy of Mary Astell. SO if you want to know more about her, have alook there:

The Discussion

[13:21] herman Bergson: So far on Mary Astell
[13:22] Paula Dix: nice
[13:22] herman Bergson: She showed a good understanding of cartesianism
[13:22] Gemma Cleanslate: i was glad to see her referred to as a philosopher there in wiki was not
[13:22] herman Bergson: She is the first to formulate the indendence of the woman
[13:22] herman Bergson: Oh she defintely is....
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:23] herman Bergson: when you read the Stanford article you'll agree
[13:23] herman Bergson: But what I find so interesting is that we deal with the history of great minds in our 100 list
[13:24] Daruma Boa: whats the 100 list?
[13:24] herman Bergson: but people like Poullian and Astell arent original thinkers but interpreters of Descates ideas
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: yes i read part of it this morning but no time to finish
[13:24] herman Bergson: The former project Daruma...I lectured on 100 philosophers of which 98 were man
[13:25] Daruma Boa: i see. thxs
[13:25] Paula Dix: where is Astell from?
[13:25] Cailleach Shan: She is English
[13:25] Corona Anatine: newcastle
[13:25] BALDUR Joubert: isn't that the hisory of philosophy.. interpret the great thinkers to arrive to new horizons?
[13:25] Paula Dix: ok, thanks
[13:25] Alexandra77 Navarathna: who were the 2 women in that top 100 list ?
[13:25] Corona Anatine: Mary Astell (1666–1731) was an English philosopher. She was born in Newcastle, and lived her adult life in London.
[13:25] herman Bergson: When you put it in the historic setting , you almost can feel the excitement about Descartes philosophy in philosophers like Astell
[13:26] herman Bergson: Yes Corona that is the one we are talking about now ^_^
[13:26] Gemma Cleanslate: i guess inspite of himself he was the founder of feminism in a way
[13:26] Corona Anatine: yeh - he sked her origin
[13:26] herman Bergson: Yes you could say so Gemma
[13:27] herman Bergson: He corresponded with several indpendent women
[13:27] Cailleach Shan: I love the title page to her book. "A Serious Proposal To The Ladies for the Advancement of their True and Greatest Interest".... by a Lover of her Sex
[13:27] Gemma Cleanslate: yes lollolol
[13:27] Paula Dix: lol
[13:27] linn Sorbet smiles
[13:27] Alexandra77 Navarathna giggles
[13:28] Paula Dix: herman, is it possible that the 'devout' part was just there to make the woman education idea acceptable??
[13:28] linn Sorbet nods..
[13:28] herman Bergson: absolutely Paula...
[13:28] Daruma Boa: good idea.
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: i think she wrote extensively on god
[13:28] Vico Rabeni: Hello, nice to meet you.
[13:28] Vico Rabeni: Bye, I hope to see you soon again.
[13:29] herman Bergson: Even the most outspoken pagan in that time would use quotes from the bible to strengthen his argumentation
[13:29] Vico Rabeni: Hello, nice to meet you.
[13:29] Gemma Cleanslate: and relationship to man
[13:29] Corona Anatine: would it have been there purly for that
[13:29] Corona Anatine: she was living in a time before the paradigm shift away from god
[13:29] Paula Dix: right... ive read the cogito ergo sum is just the start of a reasoning to prove god existence... i was disappointed :)))
[13:29] Cailleach Shan: So what has changed Herman?
[13:29] herman Bergson: The christian language was the idiom of that time
[13:29] Samuel Okelly: herman, is it possible that the 'devout' part was there just because she was equally "devout" as she was "just"?
[13:30] Cailleach Shan: The Bible is still treated like a telephone book by many.
[13:30] Daruma Boa: telephone book?
[13:30] herman Bergson: Just?
[13:30] herman Bergson: you mean right?
[13:30] herman Bergson: Samuel?
[13:30] AristotleVon Doobie: I doubt if there has been any generation that did not have to stroke teh church to promote their ideas
[13:30] Samuel Okelly: just being a clear sense of justice and a clear view of equality of the sexes
[13:31] Paula Dix: Spinoza is after her??
[13:31] Paula Dix: he had a lot of trouble with this question...
[13:31] herman Bergson: Yes Samuel, she was convinced of her views....even so much that like Verschuur she decided not to marry
[13:32] herman Bergson: even adviced women not to marry and if they did, then by their free choice
[13:32] Paula Dix: i see, to marry was a kind of submission then! scary
[13:32] herman Bergson: Spinoza is a contemporary
[13:32] Alarice Beaumont: this is something i don't understand about those women
[13:33] Corona Anatine: totally so Paula
[13:33] Alexandra77 Navarathna: it was at least until the 1950s ...
[13:33] linn Sorbet: hmmm
[13:33] linn Sorbet: maybe even later...
[13:33] Corona Anatine: read 'brighton rock ' for a good insight
[13:33] Daruma Boa: yeah sometimes still today LOL
[13:33] Paula Dix: yes, in many cases still is a submission
[13:33] herman Bergson: I agree, that this devoution is hard to understand
[13:34] Corona Anatine: in which he wants to marry her cos a wife cant testify against a husband
[13:34] Alexandra77 Navarathna: yes ... even today wouldn't be sure
[13:34] linn Sorbet: yup
[13:34] herman Bergson: but we must see it in its historic context
[13:34] Cailleach Shan: What is it you don't understand Alarice?
[13:34] Alarice Beaumont: that those women did not want to marry
[13:34] AristotleVon Doobie: one must not forget the biological need to procreate in the choice to marry, even today
[13:34] Paula Dix: herman i asked because i never know when someone defends or not a religious point of view, since it was the 'common vocabulary" then
[13:35] Corona Anatine: which at the time was unheard of
[13:35] Alexandra77 Navarathna: think it's a very bold statement, for that time, advising women not not marry ... didn't she get in trouble because of that ?
[13:35] Alarice Beaumont: i think that is too strong in the wrong direction.. but perhaps it was difficult to find an open minded man then
[13:35] Cailleach Shan: Probably because any money or property they owned immediately went to their husbands and they were back to 'no power'
[13:35] Alarice Beaumont: mmhh...yes.. good point Cailleach
[13:35] Alarice Beaumont: could be
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: I think it was a way at that time of not submitting ot controlled marrages\
[13:35] oola Neruda: you know... there have been people who misuse power, take advantage of people and their thoughts and do bad things...whether in the name of Allah or God or even in the name of the United States.... but that does not mean that there are people, intelligent people, who have thought carefully and truely are devout... who actually do live "love" and service... etc.... yes there are "true believers" but i feel it is wrong to lump everyone who has a religious point of view in with "people using power for their political or other purposes:" or with what we call "true believers"
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: family controlled
[13:36] Gemma Cleanslate: socitey expected
[13:36] Qwark Allen: yes
[13:36] herman Bergson: I think Cailleach has a point..
[13:36] herman Bergson: these were strong independent women...with their own oncome
[13:36] herman Bergson: not marrying was a protection
[13:36] Paula Dix: yes, always the economy being a basic point :)))
[13:37] BALDUR Joubert: when i say something he ignores it..:)
[13:37] herman Bergson: another point may be personal integrity.....being a virgin is above all doubt
[13:37] AristotleVon Doobie: yes, oola we should not stereotype individuals
[13:37] linn Sorbet: :))
[13:37] Paula Dix: i think i will change from arts college to some other more profitable profession
[13:37] Anne Charles: Mary lived off donations from her friends
[13:38] herman Bergson: Indeed Anne, she wasnt the rich type
[13:38] Corona Anatine: paula - it does not matter which proffession you chosse - what matters is application of mind
[13:38] Alarice Beaumont: she did? so the society did not give her enough income to live.. because of her opinion?! Bad..
[13:38] AristotleVon Doobie: indeed Corona
[13:38] Samuel Okelly: i think it is important to view the ideas in the historical and social context in which they occur... social comment and observation should stand by its own justification i think
[13:38] Paula Dix: corona, i try to believe in this :)))
[13:39] herman Bergson: yes...we cant look at those situation with our modern eyes
[13:39] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:39] Gemma Cleanslate: those days were very very different form now
[13:39] Gemma Cleanslate: from*
[13:39] Cailleach Shan: Sometimes it comes down to very basic things. Like the woman in Cambodia who lived underneath her university building for 4 years while studying for her law degree.... no accomodation provided for women.
[13:39] Corona Anatine: how different it was is shown by reading the broontes
[13:39] linn Sorbet: jeeezz...
[13:40] Corona Anatine: and females aouthers of similar date
[13:40] Gemma Cleanslate: and those in afghanistan
[13:40] Gemma Cleanslate: who risk the lives to learn
[13:40] Cailleach Shan: The male Cambodian students can live in the temples... no women allowed.
[13:40] herman Bergson: As you see there seem tpo be historical parallels
[13:41] Paula Dix: yes, a lot of them
[13:41] Alarice Beaumont: yes.. disturbing that there are still enough countries where it still is like in those old days :-(
[13:41] Paula Dix: and when women have no education males say they are less and use this as a proof
[13:41] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:41] Gemma Cleanslate: that was my point before about not marrying
[13:41] linn Sorbet nods
[13:42] herman Bergson: That is why emancipation begins with education
[13:42] Gemma Cleanslate: absolutely
[13:42] Corona Anatine: absolutely
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: if society can just stop stripping women from birth of there self esteem, then maybe women will realize that they actually have more power then men
[13:42] Anne Charles: Lets not forget Mary's only education was from a defrocked alcoholic uncle
[13:42] Paula Dix: yes, descartes was a main feminist, even if without intention
[13:42] Gemma Cleanslate: yes lol
[13:42] Gemma Cleanslate: so her mind was very very good
[13:42] herman Bergson: yes indeed Anne..:-)
[13:42] Paula Dix: more, ari? why??
[13:42] BALDUR Joubert: aristotele.. i agree witrh you..
[13:42] Cailleach Shan: I think Mary Astell understood that education was the key to power.
[13:43] AristotleVon Doobie: it is up to the parents tpo assure this
[13:43] Daruma Boa: of course she did!
[13:43] Corona Anatine: not so Aristotle
[13:43] herman Bergson: Yes Cailleach, even stronger than Verschuur did I would say
[13:43] Corona Anatine: it is up to society to assure this
[13:43] Corona Anatine: cos not all paretns can
[13:43] Paula Dix: ari i like the idea of equality, not that women have more power :)
[13:44] AristotleVon Doobie: it starts with the parent and the corrupt l;egacy that is nurtured in both girl and boy childrean
[13:44] oola Neruda: society plays it's role too... and sometimes it is impossible to protect your child from it
[13:45] BALDUR Joubert: i think the wish to escape male domination is not necessarily a wish for power
[13:45] AristotleVon Doobie: if things are to change in places like Cambodia, it will take poser to do
[13:45] Cailleach Shan: What do you think it is then Baldur?
[13:45] Paula Dix: baldur, thats right, i want knowledge much more than power
[13:45] AristotleVon Doobie: power
[13:45] herman Bergson: Well....I think we all now see that the fight for equality of which we see here the first movements is still going on in all kinds of ways, also in our own societies
[13:45] Corona Anatine: knowledge is power
[13:45] Gemma Cleanslate: oh yes
[13:45] Cailleach Shan: Is there a difference Paula?
[13:45] AristotleVon Doobie: LOL, knowledge is power
[13:45] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:46] Paula Dix: yes, with knowledge you know the good power is the one thats not used
[13:46] Daruma Boa: absolutly
[13:46] Paula Dix: and the reverse isnt true
[13:46] Cailleach Shan: mmmm.... power doesn't have to mean domination over.
[13:46] BALDUR Joubert: a nuclear bomb in the hands of terrorist is power corona... is it knowledge?
[13:46] Samuel Okelly: i think a number of assumptions are made about "equality", "equality of sexes" and what this egalitarian view means (a denial of difference as being eunequal in value and demeaning of the person)
[13:47] Daruma Boa: it is important to use power right.
[13:47] Daruma Boa: and to know that.
[13:47] Corona Anatine: it would require knolwedhge to ues one
[13:47] Paula Dix: exact, power isnt knowledge, and knowledge isnt power, it can give power
[13:47] AristotleVon Doobie: historically, women have been prevented from attaining knowledge because of its product of power
[13:47] Daruma Boa: to the right one.
[13:47] herman Bergson: Oh yes Samuel, the concept of equality isnt really defined yet
13:48] Elia Scribe: k -> p dies not mean p -> k Baldur
[13:48] You decline 'Meta Makeover Contest, walk to beach, Northpoint (126, 20, 22)' ( ) from The Primgraph.
[13:48] Paula Dix: true ari, same as we see here education being kept at lower levels so the poor wont take part of the power from the riches
[13:48] Elia Scribe: What is power then Paula? If not that which gives it.
[13:48] Cailleach Shan: Is it equality... or equal opportunity?
[13:48] AristotleVon Doobie: yes Paula, the same
[13:48] Corona Anatine: for that matter f and m cant have physical equality
[13:49] Corona Anatine: only intellectual and edcuational
[13:49] BALDUR Joubert: thats what i said elia:)
[13:49] AristotleVon Doobie: in the antebellum south it was against the law to educate slaves for the same reason
[13:49] Paula Dix: i guess power is basically domination. muscle. is this correct?
[13:49] Corona Anatine: no
[13:49] Cailleach Shan: Not in my opinion Paula.
[13:51] Paula Dix: hmmm power then is to be able to do this or that?
[13:51] Cailleach Shan: Hahahaha..... Herman has his hand on the button.
[13:51] Elia Scribe: Vectors have scale.
[13:51] Daruma Boa: si qwark;-)
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: send out a warning herman
[13:51] herman Bergson: VERY TRUE Cailleach
[13:52] herman Bergson: Ok ..thank you that I didnt need to use my powers to the maximum
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: lololl
[13:52] Paula Dix: :))
[13:52] linn Sorbet: :)
[13:52] Alarice Beaumont: sorry.. i crashed
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: wb
[13:52] herman Bergson: I think we have a clear picture of Mary Astell now and her time
[13:53] Gemma Cleanslate: now herman
[13:53] herman Bergson: Anne Conway will be another example of these 17th century women with their remarkable history
[[13:53] Gemma Cleanslate: thursday is thanksgiving day in the usa
[13:53] Daruma Boa: and i will go to the christmas market;-)
[13:53] Gemma Cleanslate: not sure how many will be off
[13:53] herman Bergson: So ..thank you for your participation and good debate
[13:53] Daruma Boa: in rl
[13:53] Qwark Allen: ah
[13:53] Qwark Allen: ok
[13:53] linn Sorbet: :))
[13:53] AristotleVon Doobie: thank you Herman
[13:53] Paula Dix: thanks, herman, great class today :))
[13:53] Qwark Allen: ty herman
[13:54] Daruma Boa: thx herman
[13:54] Qwark Allen: it was
[13:54] Alarice Beaumont: ah.. then perhaps we better skip thursday..
[13:54] herman Bergson: My pleasure
[13:54] Alarice Beaumont: what do you think Herman?
[13:54] Rodney Handrick: thanks Herman
[13:54] Alexandra77 Navarathna: yeah thank you
[13:54] Daruma Boa: tuesday i will be here
[13:54] herman Bergson: Oh..skip thursday?
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: i don't know
[13:54] Paula Dix: me too
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: how many will be off????
[13:54] herman Bergson: Why so?
[13:54] Corona Anatine: why should thanksgiving prevent a class
[13:54] herman Bergson: Xmas market in RL?
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY
[13:54] AristotleVon Doobie: I will be hardpressed to attend Thursday's class
[13:54] Rodney Handrick: agreed...
[13:54] Alarice Beaumont: yes!
[13:54] Qwark Allen: :-)
[13:54] Alarice Beaumont: they are starting this weekend!!!
[13:54] linn Sorbet: :)
[13:54] Anne Charles: I cant be here on Thurs
[13:55] oola Neruda: will anyone be home to be able to come to class?
[13:55] Daruma Boa: no last week here in germany
[13:55] Rodney Handrick: put sl on your wireless
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: not sure
[13:55] Alarice Beaumont: already starting to build the little houses
[13:55] Qwark Allen: i can come
[13:55] herman Bergson: Well I remeber the problem from last year...
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:55] Alarice Beaumont: we have some snow over here.. so it's just perfect!
[13:55] Qwark Allen: yes
[13:55] Alarice Beaumont: and yummy hot red wine... mmmmm
[13:55] Daruma Boa: i have 1 market right behing my sl house;-)
[13:55] Alarice Beaumont: cool
[13:55] Qwark Allen: omg!! sl ready snow
[13:55] herman Bergson: I think we can move the thursday class to Friday???
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: ah that is a good idea to me
[13:55] Daruma Boa: öhm. yes. after my yoga;-)
[13:55] Qwark Allen: sounds good
[13:55] AristotleVon Doobie: that would be great
[13:56] Paula Dix: ok by me
[13:56] oola Neruda: friday..that would be good
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: better send a notice out today
[13:56] Qwark Allen: yes
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: to all not here
[13:56] Cailleach Shan: It is Thanksgiving every day in NZ but no public holiday for us.
[13:56] herman Bergson: Ok...FRIDAY it will be then
[13:56] Qwark Allen: i was thinking the same gemma
[13:56] Qwark Allen: :-)
[13:56] Daruma Boa: ok i will note friday
[13:56] herman Bergson: ok..I'll do that
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: ah nice cailleach
[13:57] Gemma Cleanslate: great
[13:57] herman Bergson: Class Dismissed..:-)
[13:57] Paula Dix: :))
[13:57] Daruma Boa: by all together!
[13:57] Gemma Cleanslate: ty Herman
[13:57] herman Bergson: Thank you all
[13:57] Corona Anatine: ty Herman

Posted by herman_bergson on 2008-11-26 14:59:01

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