WollstonecraftNotes - Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the...

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Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman From the beginning, she is clear that she intends to prove the rights of women by exposing the roots of the current treatment of women, “it appears necessary to go back to first principles in search of the most simple truths, and to dispute with some prevailing prejudice every inch of ground.” She claims, as do the liberals, that man’s preeminence over nature is based in reason, and human happiness ought be based in assessments of reason, virtue and knowledge. In the case of women, she claims prejudice has clouded reason, created false virtues and suffocated knowledge. This, she asserts, is the work of vice – notably, the pleasures that attend privilege. She claims patriarchal systems like monarchies are a major source of this corruption. Case in point: “It is impossible for any man, when the most favorable circumstances concur, to acquire sufficient knowledge and strength of mind to discharge the duties of a king, entrusted with uncontrolled power; how then must they be violated when his very elevation is an insuperable bar to the attainment of either wisdom or virtue; when all the feelings of a man are stifled by flattery, and reflection shut out by pleasure! Surely it is madness to make the fate of thousands depend on the caprice of a weak fellow creature, whose very station sinks him necessarily below the meanest of his subjects! But one power should not be thrown down to exalt another—for all power intoxicates weak man; and its abuse proves, that the more equality there is established among men, the more virtue and happiness will reign in society.” Wollstonecraft defends the place of passion and the idea that all humans deserve to achieve happiness in an argument based mainly on the perfection of God. Unlike Rousseau, she believes history is not a decline, and that evil was a part of God’s plan that must serve some purpose in bringing about a better world; she claims, “Rousseau exerts himself to prove that all was right originally: a crowd of authors that all is now right: and I, that all will be right.” She accuses Rousseau of being too cynical: she indicates that he went to far towards the ascetic and ignored the promising aspects of the world around him. She indicates, however, that his general assessment of the imperilment of virtue by convention are based in legitimate concerns. Like Rousseau, she believes morality is key to happiness. Her morality likewise requires equality, “I shall scarcely excite surprise by adding my firm persuasion that every profession, in which great subordination of rank constitutes its power, is highly injurious to morality.” She extends this critique to the military and clergy. Most men, she concludes, are so thoroughly conformist and obedient, that one can barely discern who and what they actually are. She traces this back to the roots of society, where she posits early leaders and dominant classes must have held extreme power over the remainder. So she claims, “It is the pestiferous
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This note was uploaded on 12/20/2010 for the course POLI SCI 365 taught by Professor Buzby during the Spring '10 term at Rutgers.

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WollstonecraftNotes - Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the...

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