Hesperus is Bosphorus

A group blog by philosophers in and from Turkey

Talk at Bogazici, Alan Coffee (King’s College London), “Catharine Macaulay and Mary Wollstonecraft on the One Fault Women of Honour May Not Commit with Impunity”

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There will be a talk this Wednesday, May 4th, at 5pm at Bogazici University by philosopher Alan Coffee (King’s College London). The location is TB 130 (Anderson Hall 130). Please join us.

“Catharine Macaulay and Mary Wollstonecraft on the One Fault Women of Honour May Not Commit with Impunity”


Republican theory is often regarded as being patriarchal and hostile to women. Even in its revived, inclusive contemporary form, non-domination, feminists often ask the question, ‘can republicanism be good for women?’ And yet, not only is there a long history of women writing within this political tradition, but they have written some of its most significant and innovative work. Nevertheless, their contribution remains almost entirely unknown. From Livy, through Machiavelli and Milton, to the eighteenth century revolutionaries, the accepted canons of republican sources are exclusively male.

A great many women were writing during this revolutionary period across Europe and in America. I focus on two of the most prominent. Catharine Macaulay could plausibly claim to be the greatest of all republican writers. She was highly influential in her own time and may even have first introduced the phrase ‘the equal rights of men’. Although her monumental History of England and her Letters on Education stand as exemplary republican treatises, as rigorous and detailed as any, there are no currently widely available published editions, and she remains an obscure figure in intellectual history. Her influence on Mary Wollstonecraft was very profound. While Wollstonecraft is celebrated today for her inspiration to feminists, her achievements as a broad-ranging philosopher and political theorist in her own right have been neglected (I argue elsewhere for their continuing relevance, especially in securing equal freedom for all in diverse populations).

Taken together, Macaulay and Wollstonecraft provide a thorough, insightful and still relevant blueprint for analysing and remodelling the structural forms of domination that combine to prevent women from acting as free agents and citizens on their own terms. Legal, political and economic dependence on men play their part but their ultimate source of oppression is cultural. Wollstonecraft in particular shows how collaboratively rebuilding social values and practices with men and women both contributing must form the basis of any lasting social and political equality.


Written by markedwardsteen

May 2, 2016 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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