On the 23 February 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft published a book that has become a milestone in the history of political philosophy and one of the founding texts of feminist political thought, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. On this the 220th anniversary of the birth of the Vindication we welcome all to a symposium dedicated to the philosophy and intellectual context of this remarkable thinker.
I found out about this philosophers' confab in September, and now its organiser, Lena Halldenius, has written with more information on the proceedings. She also expresses no amazement that I will be, instead, at the other academic conference commemorating the publication of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, though honestly that decision had much less to do with the weather (I love proper snow!) and much more to do with networking for Mary on the Green, the project to raise a memorial sculpture. We'll have more on Mary Wollstonecraft: Legacies, and Gainsville FL, in another post soon.
As for the Lund symposium, there is full info at PhilEvents, a website compiling events in philosophy, brought to you by the Institute of Philosophy, at the University of London. The symposium has a Facebook event page, and though its organiser professes technological modesty (a repeating virtue, see below), there are high hopes of the talks being podcast. Watch this space! Would anybody attending like to tweet the day as it goes along?
Four of the five speakers have already provided their philosophical abstracts. There is Martina Reuter, of Helsinki and Jyväskylä, on "Rousseau, Macaulay and Wollstonecraft on Negative Education", and Alan Coffee, of Birkbeck, on "Freedom as Independence: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Grand Blessing of Life". I am particularly curious about the paper by Lena Halldenius herself, on "Drawing from the Original Source. Wollstonecraft on Morality and Nature":
My aim here is to analyze what acting morally means and requires in Wollstonecraft’s thought. This is usefully done partly by identifying what it is that makes moral agency so difficult. I argue that there are three components to Wollstonecraft’s theory of moral agency: an internal intellectual struggle, acting on a universal motive, and the activity of freely disposing of one’s person. The sometimes overwhelming difficulty of acting on the duty to be moral – despite a person’s very best intentions – makes up the stuff of Wollstonecraft’s novels. I will use her novels here to investigate how she lets ‘nature’ and its counterpoint ‘artifice’ serve to show of what this difficulty is made."The sometimes overwhelming difficulty of acting on the duty to be moral – despite a person’s very best intentions": yup, I can relate.
I am also interested in "Wollstonecraft on the Virtue of Chastity", as discussed by Sandrine Berges, who has been kind enough to write for this blog, and who I'll be sorry to miss. Mary and the Slutwalk and Mary, molls, and modesty looked at the under-read chapter of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman that begins with a paean to that virtue:
MODESTY! Sacred offspring of sensibility and reason!—true delicacy of mind!—may I unblamed presume to investigate thy nature, and trace to its covert the mild charm, that mellowing each harsh feature of a character, renders what would otherwise only inspire cold admiration—lovely!The Bilkent philosopher doesn't write like that.
In the Vindication of the Rights of Women, Wollstonecraft offers one of the very few existing philosophical discussions of the virtue of chastity. I argue that her account is Aristotelian, focusing as it does on the idea that chastity is a firm character trait rather than a natural disposition, and that it is a mean between a vice of excess and one of deficiency. Her account is somewhat complicated by the fact that she explains chastity as a derivative of modesty, not understood as a sexual virtue, but a just understanding of one's own worth. In that sense her account is very close to an account of modesty offered by Irene McMullin in her 2010 paper. The linking of modesty and chastity enables Wollstonecraft to give an account of chastity different from those of her predecessors, such that a feminist would be comfortable accepting it, but it also raises some potential worries about whether concerns of chastity place an unreasonable burden on women. I will argue that responding to these worries by further developing the account in fact gives us some of the tools we need to combat oppressive prejudices and related practices traditionally born of concerns for chastity.[Addendum: the conference now has a poster to download.]