Mary Wollstonecraft, Champion of Reason, Passionate in Love

In honor of Mary Wollstonecraft’s 257th birthday (she was born on April 27, 1759), here’a piece I wrote about her last fall, following my history of ideas travel series following this great feminist and champion of human rights’ time in Paris. Enjoy!

Ordinary Philosophy


The life and work of Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of modern feminism, can seem to reveal a mass of contradictions.

Her seminal feminist work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, champions reason as the ultimate guide for a moral and productive life. She used reason to great effect to show why women should, and how they could, grow out of their socially constructed roles as under-educated coquettes and household drudges. She believed that reason should rule both individuals and societies because it’s the best tool we have to achieve justice and to perfect the self. Without reason, she thought, human beings are ruled by narrow self-interest, by the prejudice born of ignorance, and by crude lust.

Yet the life Wollstonecraft chose to live was widely criticized both during her lifetime and over the two hundred plus years since her death. It’s not just because she didn’t conform to the mores…

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