Happy Birthday, Elizabeth Cady Stanton!

In honor of the great feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton‘s birthday, I’m sharing again the stories of my explorations of her life and ideas in the places she lived and worked, often in conjunction with her fellow feminists Ernestine Rose and Frederick Douglass:

To New York City I Go, In Search of Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Enjoy, and I hope you find her story as fascinating and inspiring as I do!

~ Ordinary Philosophy is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Any support you can offer will be deeply appreciated!

*A version of this piece was previously published at Ordinary Philosophy

Happy Birthday, John Stuart Mill!

John Stuart Mill and Helen Taylor, daughter of Harriet Taylor, collaborated with Mill after her mother's death, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

John Stuart Mill and Helen Taylor, daughter of Harriet Taylor, who collaborated with Mill after her mother’s death. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

…The writings by which one can live are not the writings which themselves live, and are never those in which the writer does his best.

John Stuart Mill, from his Autobiography

One of my favorite ideas in political philosophy is John Stuart Mill’s ‘marketplace of ideas’ (though he didn’t phrase it this way himself): that the free, open, and vigorous exchange of ideas in the public sphere does more to further human knowledge than anything else. But not only has his comprehensive and to my mind, absolutely correct defense of free speech in his great work On Liberty had an immense and beneficial influence on the history and theory of human rights, he was admirable in myriad other ways as well:

‘Mill believed in complete equality between the sexes, not just women’s colleges and, someday, female suffrage but absolute parity; he believed in equal process for all, the end of slavery, votes for the working classes, and the right to birth control (he was arrested at seventeen for helping poor people obtain contraception), and in the common intelligence of all the races of mankind… all this along with an intelligent acceptance of the free market as an engine of prosperity and a desire to see its excesses and inequalities curbed…. Mill was an enemy of religious bigotry and superstition, and a friend of toleration and free thought, without overdoing either…’

~ Adam Gopnik, from his article and book review ‘Right Again‘, 2008

John Stuart Mill, from an exhibit at the Museum of the University of St Andrews

‘The son of James Mill, a friend and follower of Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was subjected to a rigorous education at home: he mastered English and the classical languages as a child, studied logic and philosophy extensively, read the law with John Austin, and then embarked on a thirty-five career with the British East India Company at the age of seventeen. (He also suffered through a severe bout of depression before turning twenty-one.) Despite such a rich background, Mill credited the bulk of his intellectual and personal development to his long and intimate association with Harriet Hardy Taylor. They were devoted friends for two decades before the death of her husband made it possible for them to marry in 1852; she died in Avignon six years later. Mill continued to write and to participate in political affairs, serving one term in Parliament (1865-68). The best source of information about Mill’s life is his own Autobiography (1873).

Philosophically, Mill was a radical empiricist who held that all human knowledge, including even mathematics and logic, is derived by generalization from sensory experience. In A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1843) he explained in great detail the canons for reasoning inductively to conclusions about the causal connections exhibited in the natural world.

Mill’s moral philosophy was a modified version of the utilitarian theory he had learned from his father and Bentham. In the polemical Utilitarianism (1861) Mill developed a systematic statement of utilitarian ethical theory. He modified and defended the general principle that right actions are those that tend to produce the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people, being careful to include a distinction in the quality of the pleasures that constitute happiness. There Mill also attempted a proof of the principle of utility, explained its enforcement, and discussed its relation to a principle of justice.

Mill’s greatest contribution to political theory occurs in On Liberty (1859), where he defended the broadest possible freedom of thought and expression and argued that the state can justify interference with the conduct of individual citizens only when it is clear that doing so will prevent a greater harm to others. Mill also addressed matters of social concern in Principles of Political Economy (1848) and Considerations on Representative Government (1861) and eloquently supported the cause of women’s rights in The Subjection of Women (1869).’

~ from The Philosophy Pages by Garth Kemerling, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License

Learn more about the massively influential, hard-thinking John Stuart Mill:

John Stuart Mill ~ Fred Wilson for The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

John Stuart Mill (1806—1873) ~ Colin Hydt for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

John Stuart Mill: British Philosopher and Economist ~ Richard Paul Anschutz for Encyclopædia Britannica.

On Liberty ~ by John Stuart Mill, via Project Gutenberg

Right Again: The Passions of John Stuart Mill ~ Adam Gopnik for The New Yorker, Oct 6th, 2008

~ Ordinary Philosophy is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Any support you can offer will be deeply appreciated!!

Remembering Margaret Cavendish

Margaret Cavendish (née Lucas), Duchess of Newcastle

Margaret Lucas Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle, was a rare and singular intelligence, a memorable and outrageous personality, and a prolific thinker and writer. Born on an unknown date in 1623, she was not given much of a formal education beyond the basics of reading and writing. As is so often the case for such independent and active minds, she obtained a higher education on her own. She sought out the company and conversation of learned people, including her brother John, a lawyer, scholar, and founding member of the Royal Society, and otherwise gobbled up learning wherever she could find it.

She married William Cavendish, Marquis and then Duke of Newcastle upon Tyne, in the spring of 1645. Though he was thirty years her senior, they had much in common, including a deep love of literature. Like Margaret, he was an unusual and independent personality, and he encouraged her in her intellectual pursuits, helping her to get her works published when she ran into obstacles doing it on her own. She wrote in a wide variety of genres, including philosophy, poetry, and plays; she wrote essays, a utopia, a biography of her husband, and an autobiography. She hung out with Thomas Hobbes, Kenelm Digby, René Descartes, Marin Mersenne and Pierre Gassendi at her husband’s salons; unfortunately, they would not engage her in serious conversation. So, she engaged with their ideas on her own within her philosophical writings. She designed her own outrageous clothing, was reputed to sprinkle her speech with obscenities, and as far as she could, did as she liked. However much it was due to her connections or to her own accomplishments, she was the first woman to attend a meeting of the Royal Society. Though she was so much younger than her husband, she died two years before him on December 15, 1673, at age fifty. William outlived her by two years, proud of his ‘Mad Madge’ to the end.

Learn more about this amazing woman at:

Biography of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle upon Tyne (c. 1623-1673) ~ for the Manuscripts and Special Collections pages of the University of Nottingham website

Duchess of Newcastle Margaret Cavendish ~  at the Poetry Foundation

“Mad Madge” – Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle ~ by Lauren Gilbert for English Historical Fiction Authors blog

Mad Madge: Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, Royalist, Writer and Romantic ~ Min Wild’s review of Katie Whitaker’s biography for the Independent

Margaret Cavendish (1623—1673) ~ by Eugene Marshall for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy 

Margaret Lucas Cavendish ~ by David Cumming for The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Christine de Pizan’s Song of Joan of Arc: A Defense of a Political Heroine

Jeanne d’Arc by Albert Lynch, engraving from Figaro Illustre magazine, 1903, public domain

This is a paper I recently submitted for one of my classes at the University of Edinburgh. I was very glad for the opportunity to bring Joan into my studies here!

~~~~~~

Song of Joan of Arc (Ditié de Jehanne d’Arc) is the medieval Italian-French writer Christine de Pizan’s paean to the teenage visionary who led the French army to stunning victories in the Hundred Years War against the English and their French allies. Prior to Song, from about 1399 to 1429, de Pizan authored forty-one works of poetry, prose, and praise and earned her own living doing it, the first European woman to do so.[1] Many of her works are called proto-feminist not because she advocated changing the social and political roles of women, but because she used her pen so often to defend the moral and intellectual worth of women against misogynist literary attacks, notably Jean de Meun’s The Romance of the Rose and Matheolus’ Lamentations.[2] Nadia Margolis describes de Pizan’s magnum opus The Book of the City of Ladies as ‘the first recorded history of women by a woman author, …one of the first deliberate, systematic refutations of male assertions of women’s inferiority ever written.’[3]

De Pizan draws on her canon for her Song of Joan. She marshals her characterizations of great female heroes and saviors of the past from her prolific body of work in celebration of this amazing heroine of her own time. She draws on the Bible and the classics for her Song as well. Nor does de Pizan stop with great women: a mythic and historic, Biblical and Greek array of great male and female figures march triumphantly before Joan in Song. Written in 1429, the year of de Pizan’s death and two years before Joan’s execution by fire, it’s the last of her works. This epic poem is not only a hagiography nor even, as we’ll see, is it interspersed with mere patriotic digs at the English foe and their allies. Like so many of her works, it’s also a defense, not of all women in this case, but of one particular woman. Specifically, it’s a defense of Joan against politically motivated attacks on her personal and religious character. Thus, I argue, de Pizan’s Song is a political work as well.

As the introductory stanzas give way to the main topics of the Song, de Pizan calls on God to help her tell her story well and truthfully.[4] This is reminiscent of the openings of ancient Greek works such as Homer’s Odyssey[5] and Hesiod’s Theogony[6], in which they call on the Muses to do the same. De Pizan draws this classical theme throughout her Song, calling on the ancients as well to help demonstrate the type and significance of Joan’s heroism. This device serves to underscore Joan’s monumental role in history as well as to make the God-ordained nature of her mission more believable: after all, God has called on people to do great things many times before. De Pizan portrays Joan as the fitting culmination for her own time of the great lineage of heroes and saviors from the Bible and the classics. And not only is Joan like them, she is superior to them: “She frees France from its enemies, …not even Hector – Nor Achilles could withstand her.”[7] In stanza XXIII, Joan is a Moses, leading her people out of subjugation.[8] In stanza XXV, Joan is a Joshua, a conqueror. In stanza XXVII, Joan is a Gideon, a simple shepherd called by God to be a warrior. But these were men, de Pizan points out, and Joan was a young girl. Not only did she perform brave and marvelous feats, she did so without the naturally greater physical strength of grown men.[9] Because this rendered her task more difficult, her feats were all the greater.

And de Pizan has no shortage of great female heroines to associate with Joan. Some of these associations are named: Judith, Esther, and Deborah. The exploits of these great heroines of the Bible would have been widely known to her Christian audience: Judith cuts off the head of the general Holofernes before he can destroy her city; Esther risks her life to reveal a plot that would have led her husband-king to destroy her people; and the prophet and judge Deborah arranges a battle to free her people, then cements the victory by hammering a tent pin into the enemy general’s head as he rests in defeat. Some of the women de Pizan associates with Joan, however, are not identified by name. Nevertheless, many of these latter associations would have been readily identifiable for the educated reader and especially for readers of de Pizan’s earlier work since they were drawn from the classics. For example, in stanza XIV, De Pizan attributes Joan’s military success to her intelligence as well as God’s help: “Once it was lost but now it is yours – …And all due to – the intelligence of the Maid who, thanks – to God, most expertly played her part.”[10] In earlier works, such as Letter of Othea to Hector and The Book of the City of Ladies, de Pizan lauds Minerva and Pallas Athena, two aspects of the same Greek goddess. Minerva is associated with war, as the wise woman who invents armor and iron weapons; Pallas is associated with wisdom and knowledge generally. As the wise warrior woman extraordinaire, Joan is Minerva-Pallas, personified.

The clearest and most-repeated association I find between Joan and an unnamed great woman is with the Virgin Mary. In one stanza, de Pizan praises Joan as both virgin and a moral mother “You are virgin, very young, – To whom God grants the strength and power – To be both woman and champion, – Who offers France the gentle breast, – the food of peace…”[11] Later on, de Pizan continues the Marian theme: “Aha!! What honor for the female – Sex! God shows how he loves it, – …By one woman [the nobles and realm] were fortified, No men could do this deed….”[12] If these parallels aren’t clear enough, de Pizan portrays Joan as the vessel through which salvation comes (to France) and through which the king comes to rule his kingdom (Charles’ coronation at Reims). And just as it was in Nazareth, God could have saved France any way he chose, and he chose to save both through women.

Some of de Pizan’s hagiographic characterizations of Joan do not relate to her virtues as a woman, such as those which reflect her earlier works such as City of Ladies and Letter of Othea, or as a savior, such as those which compare her to Old Testament and mythic heroines and heroes. It appears, rather, that they relate to her superiority over her foes. Angus J. Kennedy and Kenneth Varty, in the interpretive essay which accompanies their publication and translations of Song, identify the strong anti-English sentiment found throughout the work.[13] As they point out, de Pizan characterizes the English and their allies as evil, wicked, traitors, and before Joan and her army’s power, helpless as dead dogs.[14] De Pizan also uses the term l’Englecherie, which Kennedy and Varty describe as a pejorative term for the English in that place and time.[15]

Yet this patriotic poem goes beyond ‘heaping scorn’[16] on her foes. De Pizan offers a defense of Joan’s character by offering descriptions of her virtues and intentions that contradict the negative characterizations of her spread by the English and their French allies, the Burgundians. We have a contemporary record of these in the transcripts of her trial in Rouen. Joan was captured on May 23rd, 1430 at Compiègne, and after lengthy negotiations, was handed over to an ecclesiastical court in exchange for 10,000 livres.[17] Despite her being subjected to a purportedly religious trial, she was not, as was customary in those kinds of cases, kept in a religious prison looked after by nuns. Rather, she was kept in an English military prison, chained to a wall, with male guards inside and outside her cell.[18]

The trail at Rouen was widely understood to be both a character and a literal assassination carried out by means of a show trial,[19] carried out with elaborate procedure to make it seem as impartial as possible.[20] Her judges, led by Pierre Cauchon, a French judge in the pay of the English, set out to prove Joan was so depraved, morally and religiously, that she could not have been sent by God. The opening statement of the trial reads: “The reputation of this woman had already gone forth into many parts: how, wholly forgetful of womanly honesty, and having thrown off the bonds of shame, careless of all the modesty of womankind, she wore with an astonishing and monstrous brazenness, immodest garments belonging to the male sex…”.[21] The issue of men’s clothing, which Joan habitually worse since going to war, was a major theme throughout the trial. It was used as evidence not only of her immodesty but her heresy as well, since the Bible forbids women to wear men’s clothing[22]. The judges did not address the fact that imprisoning her in a cell with male guards exposed her to the continual threat of sexual assault and rape[23]; Joan may have found it expedient to wear men’s clothing to preserve her virginity[24], a status which these judges were so intent to undermine. After many sessions of testimony and questioning, twelve formal Articles of Accusation were drawn up and read aloud. One accuses her of staying in a house “with unguarded women” where soldiers liked to hang around[25]. Another accuses her of “having intimate relations” with Captain Robert de Baudricourt and promising to bear him one pope, one emperor, and one king[26].

In defense of Joan’s moral purity, De Pizan refers specifically to Joan’s virginity no less than 13 times in her Song, besides numerous allusions throughout to Joan’s generally virtuous character. De Pizan might have used this description to describe any great woman since de Pizan considers virginity as sacred a designation for women as any Christian of her time[27].

But aside from the sometimes rather startling charges pertaining to her sexual behavior, the imputations of witchcraft and heresy were more serious. The opening statement continues, “her presumptuousness had grown until she was not afraid to perform, to speak, and to disseminate many things contrary to the Catholic faith and hurtful to the articles of the orthodox belief. And by so doing, as well in our diocese as in several other districts of this kingdom, she was said to be guilty of no inconsiderable offenses[28].” Her judges expand on this theme in another statement read over a month later at the first public session[29].

De Pizan goes well beyond defending Joan as personally pious: she presents Joan as a defender of the Christian faith itself. De Pizan writes that not only will Joan defend the faith, but “The Christian faith and Holy Church, – Will both be set to rights through her…”[30] This was one of the passages which alerted me to the political elements in Song. The Hundred Year’s War and de Pizan’s Song long predate England’s schism with the Catholic Church; it so happened that the Pope bestowed the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ nearly one hundred years later on the English monarch Henry VIII before Henry broke England’s ties to the Catholic Church[31]. There were no particular reasons to charge England with being at odds with the Christian faith except as far as they refused to lay down their arms before Joan. Still, even if Joan were on God’s side in the quarrel between the French and the English, this wouldn’t imply that Joan was defender of the Christian faith at large. What, then, explains de Pizan’s remarks here?

The English and their allies certainly did not see themselves as enemies of God or the true faith[32]. They saw themselves as rightful heirs to the throne of France; indeed, as a result of the habit of monarchs creating alliances by marrying their children off to one another only to have these heirs to the crown die off in inconvenient succession, the English monarch did have a real claim to the French throne[33]. It was not in the English interests for their claim to be invalidated as against the will of God. It was in their interests to demonstrate that Joan was not on God’s side. If she had a reputation as indecent, immodest, unwomanly, or a woman of loose morals with a penchant for soldiers, that would weaken Joan’s reputation for holiness. It was even more in their interests that Joan be perceived as a witch, a heretic, or both: if this could be demonstrated, then Joan’s claim to be sent by God could not[34]. Therefore, de Pizan mounts a strong defense of Joan’s godliness, claiming her not only as a pious Christian but as a defender of the faith itself. But the role as a defender of the faith doesn’t seem necessary to add to Joan’s already impressive resume of Christian greatness in Song except as an additional qualifier, a sort of icing on the cake. But de Pizan goes even beyond that: “Yet destroying the English invader – is not, indeed, her primary concern. – For her calling is in preserving – the Faith….”[35]

Once again, we can ask: what impels de Pizan to make the claim that Joan’s primary concern is defending the Christian faith, on behalf of the impressive warrior-saint for whom she’s already claimed so much? When de Pizan mounts her defense of Joan, she could not have known that Joan would be tried by an ecclesiastical court that would seek to officially undermine Joan’ claim that she was doing the will of God on behalf of France. But while de Pizan wrote her Song, Joan was on trial in the court of public opinion. Both trials were political trials, each side out to win the public’s support for their legitimacy to rule. God had chosen a side in this political contest, and Joan said that was France. Therefore, de Pizan added, Joan, as God’s chosen champion of God’s chosen France, was also the champion of the faith itself. In Song, de Pizan places France, France’s king, Joan, God, and the Christian faith itself on one side, the English and their allies on the other. There was only one side, therefore, that the faithful could join, and that was Joan’s. The faithful was transformed, in Song, to the political.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] Redfern, Jenny. “Christine de Pisan and The Treasure of the City of Ladies: A Medieval Rhetorician and Her Rhetoric” in Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women and in the Rhetorical Tradition, ed. Lunsford, Andrea. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995, p. 74

[2] De Pizan, Christine. Letter of Othea to Hector (1399-1400). Trans., ed., and interpretive essay by Jane Chance. 1997, pp. 8, 14

[3] Margolis, Nadia. “A Feminist-Historical Citadel: Christine de Pizan’s Book of the City of Ladies.” Feminist Moments: Reading Feminist Texts. Ed. Katherine Smits and Susan Bruce.: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. 11–18. Bloomsbury Collections. Accessed 28 Nov. 2017 at http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781474237970.ch-002, paragraph 1

[4] De Pizan, Christine. Ditié de Jehanne d’Arc (1429). Ed. and trans. by Angus J. Kennedy and Kenneth Varty. Oxford: Society for the Study of Mediaeval Languages and Literature, 1977, pp. 41-42

[5] Homer, Odyssey. Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University. Accessed 6 December 2017 at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0136, v. 1-10

[6] Hesiod, Theogony. Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University. Accessed 6 December 2017 at www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0130, v. 1-5, 20-25

[7] De Pizan, The Song of Joan of Arc. Trans. by Leah Shopkow. Retrieved 20 November 2017 from www.indiana.edu/~dmdhist/joan.htm, stanza XXXVI

[8] Margolis writes that De Pizan sees herself in this role in the City of Ladies as well: ‘First, it echoes the Old Testament (2 Kings 17: 7) in comparing women constrained by misogyny to the Jews enslaved by Pharaoh, thereby likening Christine to Moses (Exod 1; Deut 34). Just as Moses was chosen to lead the Israelites to freedom, so Christine was chosen to lead women to better destinies.’ – paragraph 6

[9] Song, all translations, stanza XXVII

[10] De Pizan, The Song of Joan of Arc. Trans. by Ben D. Kennedy. Retrieved 20 November 2017 from www.maidofheaven.com/joanofarc_song_pisan_contents.asp. Leah Shopkow translates the phrase to ‘wise Joan’, but the Middle French dictionary I consult translates the adjective sensible as closer in meaning to ‘intelligent.’ As Shopkow notes, in some places she sacrifices a little accuracy for overall coherence and poetic rhythm. See the introduction to her translation at www.indiana.edu/~dmdhist/joan.htm

[11] Song, trans. Shopkow, stanza XXIV

[12] Song, trans. Shopkow, stanza XXXIV

[13] Ibid., p. 13

[14] Song, trans. Shopkow, stanzas XXIII, XXIV, XXXIV, XLV, and XXXIII, respectively

[15] Song, Kennedy and Varty, p 87

[16] Ibid., p. 13

[17] The Trial of Jeanne D’Arc. Trans. By W. P. Barrett. Originally published New York: Gotham House, Inc., 1932. From Medieval Sourcebook, Fordham University. Accessed 29 November 2017 at https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/joanofarc-trial.asp, p. x

[18] Ibid., p. x

[19] Michelet, J. Joan of Arc: Or, The Maid of Orleans: From Michelet’s History of France. New York: Stanford & Delisser, 1858. Accessed 28 November 2017 from https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433071375152, pp. 115-116; Robins, P. R. “Discerning Voices in the Trial of Joan of Arc and ‘The Book of Margery Kempe’.” Fifteenth-Century Studies 38, 2013, pp. 177, 187-188

[20] Robins, p. 183

[21] Ibid., p. 2

[22] Bible, King James Version. [online], Accessed 29 November 2017 at: www.bible.com/en-GB/bible, Deuteronomy 22:5

[23] On at least one occasion, though she was in chains, Joan successfully fought off a rape attempt: Michelet, p. 207-208

[24] Men’s clothing was somewhat time-consuming to remove: hose and chausses were laced to a belt and/or the upper garments to hold them in place – Houston, Mary G. Medieval Costume in England and France: The 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries. (1939). New York: Dover, 1996, p. 53, 80-81. Joan’s ability to fight off her would-be rapist may have been aided by her protective covering of laced-together, difficult-to-remove clothing

[25] Trial, Article XIII, p. 154

[26] Ibid., Article XI, p. 159

[27] De Pizan, Christine, The Book of the City of Ladies (1405). Trans. and intro. Brown-Grant, Rosalind. London, Penguin Books, 1999, p. xix, xxiii

[28] Trial, p. 2-3

[29] Ibid., p 34, 36 ‘Since she was appearing in judgment before us we began to explain… how many of her actions, not in our diocese alone but in many other regions also, had injured the orthodox faith, and how common report of them had spread through all the realms of Christendom…. Therefore, considering the public rumor and common report and also certain information already mentioned, after mature consultation with men learned in canon and civil law, we decreed that the said Jeanne should be summoned and cited by letter to answer the interrogations in matters of faith and other points truthfully according to law and reason….’

[30] Song, trans. Shopkow, Stanza XLII

[31] ‘Defender of the Faith’. Ed.s, Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Accessed 29 November, 2017 at http://www.britannica.com/topic/defender-of-the-faith

[32] Robins, p. 177

[33] Vale, M. G. A. The Origins of the Hundred Years War: The Angevin Legacy, 1250-1340. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996, pp. 227, 266

[34] Trial, p. xi, Robins, p 177

[35] Song, trans. Kennedy, stanza XLV

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Happy Birthday, John Stuart Mill!

John Stuart Mill and Helen Taylor, daughter of Harriet Taylor, collaborated with Mill after her mother's death, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

John Stuart Mill on writing to make a living versus writing for posterity, from his Autobiography: ‘…The writings by which one can live are not the writings which themselves live, and are never those in which the writer does his best.’

~~~~~

One of my very favorite ideas in political philosophy is John Stuart Mill’s ‘marketplace of ideas’ (though he didn’t phrase it this way himself): that the free, open, and vigorous exchange of ideas in the public square does more to further human knowledge than anything else. But not only has his comprehensive and to my mind, absolutely correct defense of free speech in his great work On Liberty had an immense and beneficial influence on the history and theory of human rights, he was admirable in myriad other ways as well:

‘Mill believed in complete equality between the sexes, not just women’s colleges and, someday, female suffrage but absolute parity; he believed in equal process for all, the end of slavery, votes for the working classes, and the right to birth control (he was arrested at seventeen for helping poor people obtain contraception), and in the common intelligence of all the races of mankind… all this along with an intelligent acceptance of the free market as an engine of prosperity and a desire to see its excesses and inequalities curbed…. Mill was an enemy of religious bigotry and superstition, and a friend of toleration and free thought, without overdoing either…’ ~ Adam Gopnik, from his article and book review ‘Right Again‘, 2008

‘The son of James Mill, a friend and follower of Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was subjected to a rigorous education at home: he mastered English and the classical languages as a child, studied logic and philosophy extensively, read the law with John Austin, and then embarked on a thirty-five career with the British East India Company at the age of seventeen. (He also suffered through a severe bout of depression before turning twenty-one.) Despite such a rich background, Mill credited the bulk of his intellectual and personal development to his long and intimate association with Harriet Hardy Taylor. They were devoted friends for two decades before the death of her husband made it possible for them to marry in 1852; she died in Avignon six years later. Mill continued to write and to participate in political affairs, serving one term in Parliament (1865-68). The best source of information about Mill’s life is his own Autobiography (1873). Mill

Philosophically, Mill was a radical empiricist who held that all human knowledge, including even mathematics and logic, is derived by generalization from sensory experience. In A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1843) he explained in great detail the canons for reasoning inductively to conclusions about the causal connections exhibited in the natural world.

Mill’s moral philosophy was a modified version of the utilitarian theory he had learned from his father and Bentham. In the polemical Utilitarianism (1861) Mill developed a systematic statement of utilitarian ethical theory. He modified and defended the general principle that right actions are those that tend to produce the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people, being careful to include a distinction in the quality of the pleasures that constitute happiness. There Mill also attempted a proof of the principle of utility, explained its enforcement, and discussed its relation to a principle of justice. Mill

Mill’s greatest contribution to political theory occurs in On Liberty (1859), where he defended the broadest possible freedom of thought and expression and argued that the state can justify interference with the conduct of individual citizens only when it is clear that doing so will prevent a greater harm to others. Mill also addressed matters of social concern in Principles of Political Economy (1848) and Considerations on Representative Government (1861) and eloquently supported the cause of women’s rights in The Subjection of Women (1869).’

~ from The Philosophy Pages by Garth Kemerling, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License

Read more about John Stuart Mill:

Anschutz, Richard Paul. ‘John Stuart Mill: British Philosopher and Economist‘. In Encyclopædia Britannica.

Gopnik, Adam. ‘Right Again: The Passions of John Stuart Mill‘. New Yorker magazine website, Oct 6 2008

Heydt, Colin. ‘John Stuart Mill (1806—1873)‘, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty, from Project Gutenberg

Wilson, Fred. “John Stuart Mill“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

~ Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Margaret Sanger NYC Sites, Day 1 Part 2

The Chrysler Building at Lexington and 42nd in Manhattan, NYC

The Chrysler Building at Lexington and 42nd in Manhattan, NYC

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016, continued

Let me preface this second part of the story of today’s journey with full credit and a note of gratitude to Robin Pokorski, who worked with The Margaret Sanger Papers Project for a time. As with the MSPP overall, I found Pokorski’s project Mapping Margaret Sanger to be an absolutely invaluable resource. I’d made somewhat of a study of Sanger’s ideas over the last couple years but had not yet done the site research as of the time the opportunity to take this trip arose. With little time to prepare, imagine my joy and surprise when my research led me quickly to someone who had already done the mapping work! So I relied heavily on Robin’s work for all of the travel portions of this project. Please accept my sincerest thanks, Robin, wherever you are, and here’s to your continued success in all you do!

405 Lexington entrance to the Chrysler Building

405 Lexington entrance to the Chrysler Building

…I exit Grand Central Station, where I’ve just returned to Manhattan from the Sanger clinic site in Brownsville, Brooklyn. I follow the signs to the exit which lets me out right underneath the Chrysler Building, which stands at 405 Lexington Ave, just north of 42nd St. I’ve long been curious about this building but for one reason or another, had never made it here. It’s fully as handsome on the outside and lovely on the inside as I’ve heard. It shoots up to the sky enthusiastically and towers overhead with almost aggressive confidence and optimism. I love its Art Deco style, and I’m excited to see all the wonderful architecture and art of this period that this trip will take me to. I only wish I had a good enough camera to capture the details of the rather dimly glowing interiors. But I sacrifice camera quality for portability, and my iPad takes decent enough photos for the most part while also acting as my notepad, several books, laptop, maps and atlases, and more, all in one object the size of a slim novelette when it’s in its case. It’s just not good with low to medium interior lighting. Oh well. I love to not be heavily laden with lots of things to shuffle around.

Pokorski writes, ‘At 4.30pm on April 20, 1939, Sanger met with Bill Melon at the Chrysler Building.’ I have not been able to discover who Melon was or why she met him here yet; I await her response to my inquiry.

Elevator door in the Chrysler Building, Manhattan, NYC

Elevator door in the Chrysler Building, Manhattan, NYC

The walls of the lobby are lined with a beautiful wavy-patterned stone in shades of amber, rust, brown, and cream. It’s like entering into a semi-translucent, richly colored semi-precious stone held up to the early evening light. The ceilings are painted over with beautiful murals. Actually, as a sign on the wall tells me, these images are huge paintings on canvas which were subsequently glued into place. One of these murals is called ‘Transport and Human Endeavor’ and painted by Edward Trumbell. Sanger was a Socialist and worker’s rights activist for many years before she turned her focus to birth control, advocating for better workers’ protection laws, especially for women and children. She may have admired the mural’s beauty while scoffing a bit at its idealized depiction of labor.

As Sanger pointed out in Woman and the New Race, many working men enjoyed much better protections than women and children, especially those men who belonged to labor unions. But the relative paucity of workers’ protection laws and the abundance of men, women, and children desperate for jobs often made it unnecessary for employers to offer competitive wages or provide decent working conditions, and the situation of many working men, as well as that of working women and children, remained dire. It was the era of Lochner vs. New York, when ‘freedom of contract’ reigned supreme in court decisions regarding labor law and the regulation of commerce generally. Of course, the freedom of contract principle assumes that both employers and employees enter into contracts of their own free will, and therefore should have the right to do so. It’s quite easy to recognize, however, that this ideal bore little resemblance to the actual relationships between so many employers and the laboring poor Sanger worked on behalf of. It’s hard to see where free will comes in when the choice is between working backbreaking hours in miserable conditions, or starvation and homelessness for yourself and your family.

the-golden-glow-of-the-chrysler-buildings-agate-like-interior-2016-amy-cools

The golden glow of the Chrysler Building’s agate-like interior

Transport and Human Endeavor ceiling mural by Edward Trumbell. Margaret Sanger was a Socialist and worker's rights activist in her earlier years, and may have admired this mural's beauty while scoffing at its idealized depiction of a factory worker's place of employment

Transport and Human Endeavor ceiling mural by Edward Trumbell.

101 Park Ave entrance at former site of Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital, NYC

101 Park Ave entrance at former site of Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital, NYC

I leave the Crysler Building, then head west and south over to Park Avenue & E. 41st Street, also close to Grand Central Station, to the site of the Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital where Sanger worked in 1902 to complete her training as a nurse. A gleaming glass highrise named 101 Park Avenue, after its address, now stands at the hospital’s former site. Sanger welcomed her assignment to this modern, well-run establishment after her ‘harsh and intense’ two years at White Plains Hospital.

It was here that she met William Sanger, her first husband, and as she put it, her ‘lover for all the world’, though their marriage didn’t last. He was a fine artist and architect, and their courtship began almost immediately after William visited the hospital with plans for the doctor’s home he was designing. The Sangers shared an intense passion for a time, and a happy marriage for a while. They had three children together, one of which died as a small child, and Sanger relished the early experience of motherhood. But over time, their marriage, which had taken them to quiet suburban Westchester, grew strained: William wanted to make a career as an artist and was often impractical about money; Sanger was discontent with the humdrum routine of domestic life after her years as a working nurse. They moved back to New York City and became active in the Socialist movement and bohemian Greenwich Village scene, and Sanger returned to her nursing career, this time in service to the poor and immigrant inhabitants of the Lower East Side. The differences in the way they wanted to live their lives proved too great over time, however, and they gradually split, finalizing their divorce in 1921.

Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital. Photo courtesy of NIH's US Library of Medicine

Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital. Photo courtesy of NIH’s US Library of Medicine

Bromley's 1902 atlas showing location of Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital, from the maps collection of the NY Public Library

Bromley’s 1902 atlas showing location of Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital, from the maps collection of the NY Public Library

William was a brave and loyal partner to Sanger, at one time jailed on her behalf by Anthony Comstock in 1915 for obscenity. Comstock, a special agent of the U.S. Postal Service who helped craft laws to zealously enforce his own strict views on public morality, tricked William into handing over, or in Comstock’s words, ‘distributing’, one of Sanger’s pamphlets on reproduction, health, and birth control. It included a description of two venereal diseases, gonorrhea and syphilis, and Comstock had helped make it legally obscene to name these diseases as well as to tell women how they could prevent pregnancy with any method other than abstinence, even in the context of a health care pamphlet. After arresting William, Comstock offered him a choice: he could tell him where Margaret Sanger was hiding out (she had fled to Europe the year before to avoid prosecution) or he could stand trial. William opted for the latter and was jailed because he refused, on principle, to pay the fine.

Over the years, Sanger regretted the way her relationship with William fell apart, blaming herself for much of what went wrong though she also thought she could have done little else. She wrote a very tender letter to him in 1919, directing that it be given to William after her death. Since she outlived him by five years, he never read it. She wrote,

Margaret Higgins Sanger (1879-1966) birth control activist, sex educator, and nurse, with her eldest son Stuart, public domain via LOC

Margaret Sanger with her eldest son Stuart, public domain via Library of Congress

‘…My life seems to have been in the hands of forces I could not control. My early days at the hospital seemed so hard & cruel at the time, but today I see how necessary they were for the accomplishment of the work I am doing today.

My marriage to you and our love and the coming of the children, the saving for a home — the building of the house — the seeking, shifting, changing, interesting life all today have meaning & full value to me in this cause of humanity to which my life is dedicated.

Often I have felt your loneliness & sorrow — often I would like to seek you & fling my arms about you & hold your aching head to my heart to tell you of my tenderness for you and my love — but — Forces stronger than physical desire — stronger than personal love held me to my task to the work I have undertaken to do. But I want you to know this — for I have told it to many — that you are to me the lover of all the world — Your love for me beautified my life and made possible the outlook on love & passion & sex — which has given me the courage & strength to go forth to do.

For this I owe you much and though my love for you is big & broad & tender it is the same today as when first we decided to go the path of life together. It has never changed. Sometimes I think it was not to be that I should love too intensely…’

You can read this letter in full, and a brief but very good account of the talented and principled William Sanger, at this website dedicated to his art and legacy.

Then I go to the lovely New York Public Library, where I request a copy of Ellen Chesler’s biography of Sanger. Since it’ll take about 30-45 minutes and I’ll need some time in the maps room, I decide to come back tomorrow and stay awhile.

 280 Madison Ave, Manhattan NYC, 2016 Amy Cools, and as it was in 1945 by Wurts Bros, courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

280 Madison Ave, Manhattan NYC, my photo on the left, and to the right, as it looked in 1945. Photo by Wurts Bros, courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

I head one block to the southwest to 280 Madison Ave at E 40th St, where, Pokorski notes, Sanger lived for a short time. She ‘moved from 280 Madison Avenue in late April, 1931, [and it’s] uncertain when she moved in or where she moved to’. The building looks more or less the same as it did then, according to a photo (above) of the same building in 1945, except that the ground floor has had a new ‘face’ put on at some point, of straight bands of gray-tan stone instead of the arched arcade it once featured.

Margaret Higgins Sanger, Jan 1916 by Bain News Service, public domain via LOC

Margaret Higgins Sanger reading, Jan 1916 by Bain News Service, public domain via Library of Congress. I found a photo of Sanger at about the time she lived here at 280 Madison, but it’s not public domain. You can find it at Getty Images

Sanger was almost certainly living here when she published her ‘Comments on the Pope’s Encyclical‘ in Birth Control Review in February of 1931, and probably wrote it here, too. It’s a succinct version of at least two much longer critiques of Pope Pius XI’s Dec. 30, 1930 encyclical Casti Connubii. I’ll explore many of the ideas contained in Casti Connubii as well as Sanger’s responses to it in the context of her ideas about human sexuality and social welfare in another piece I plan to publish very soon. Sanger’s three main points, as contained in her brief ‘Comments’, are as follows. 1) The Pope never explicitly commands his followers to have as many children as they can, contrary to the beliefs of many who oppose family limitation. That’s a good thing, because even if  God exists and actually commanded the human race to “Increase and multiply and fill the earth,” that commandment has been fulfilled already. Now it’s up to us to make sure to have enough room left over to give the multitudes that exist a happy and healthy life. 2) While the Pope is correct that both love and procreation are two of the primary purposes of marriage, the latter is not essential to it. People often marry who can’t have children, and people remain married when they can no longer have more and their children have left the home, no longer requiring support. Clearly, marriage has many other purposes, which is also true of sex itself. Therefore, the Pope is wrong to propose an inextricable link between sex, marriage, and procreation. 3) The Pope declares that birth control is wrong because it frustrates nature. Yet so does abstinence, which the Pope recommends, to say nothing of the numerous ways we frustrate nature every day: shaving our faces and cutting our hair; eradicating germs with soap, water, and medicines; building shelters to protect ourselves from the natural elements, and so on. Civilization itself is one giant web of ways in which we frustrate nature or bend it to our will. The latter argument, as is evident from her sarcastic tone as well as from her other critiques of this encyclical, Sanger considers downright silly.

There are several more sites I visit today and since so there’s much more to tell, I’ll break here, and pick up my tale shortly. To be continued….

Listen to the podcast version here, on Google Play, or on iTunes

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

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Sources and Inspiration:

About Sanger: Biographical Sketch‘, from The Margaret Sanger Papers Project at New York University.

Anthony Comstock‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Chesler, Ellen. Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992

Eig, Jonathan. The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2014.

Labor History Timeline: California and the United States by California Assembly Committee on Public Employees, via the Los Angeles Community College District website

Lochner v. New York, 1905‘, from Landmark Cases: A C-Span Original TV Series, 2015

Pius XI. Casti Connubii. Encyclical of Dec. 30th, 1930

Pokorski, Robin. ‘Mapping Margaret Sanger‘ from The Margaret Sanger Papers Project at NYU

Regan, Margaret. ‘Margaret Sanger: Tucson’s Irish Rebel.Tucson Weekly, Mar 11, 2004.

Sanger, Margaret. ‘Comments on the Pope’s Encyclical‘, Birth Control Review, Feb. 1931, 40-41

Sanger, Margaret. Margaret Sanger, an Autobiography. Cooper Square Press: New York 1999, originally published by W.W. Norton & Co: New York, 1938

Sanger, Margaret. The Pivot of Civilization, 1922. Free online version courtesy of Project Gutenberg, 2008, 2013

Sanger, Margaret. Woman and the New Race, 1920. Free online version courtesy of W. W. Norton & Company

William Sanger: About‘, from williamsanger-art.com

Wurts Bros. ‘280 Madison Avenue and 40th Street, S.W. corner. Office building.’ Photo, courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

O.P. Recommends The Stronger Sex: Women Scholars and Islam, by Peter Adamson

Bint al Shati, image credit AchetronI just listened to a podcast episode I had missed a year and a half or so ago, from my go-to podcast for discovering the gaps in my knowledge (of which there are so many! sigh) about Ancient Greek, Islamic, Medieval, and Indian philosophy from Peter Adamson’s History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps. As you may remember, I had the privilege of having a conversation with him not that long ago for Ordinary Philosophy’s podcast.

The podcast episode I just listened to that I’m recommending today is called The Stronger Sex: Women Scholars and Islam (#192). In it, ‘Fatema Mernissi and others challenge the long-standing (but not complete) exclusion of women from the intellectual traditions of Islam.’ It was altogether fascinating, and much of what I heard surprised me. It made me very curious to learn more about women in Islamic philosophy.

Enjoy!

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, entirely supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!