Course Hero. "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Study Guide." Course Hero. 29 Nov. 2017. Web. 20 Apr. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Vindication-of-the-Rights-of-Woman/>.
Course Hero. (2017, November 29). A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved April 20, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Vindication-of-the-Rights-of-Woman/
(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Study Guide." November 29, 2017. Accessed April 20, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Vindication-of-the-Rights-of-Woman/.
Course Hero, "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Study Guide," November 29, 2017, accessed April 20, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Vindication-of-the-Rights-of-Woman/.
This book was published in 1792, a time when the French Revolution was still in progress and America was experimenting with setting up a democratic republic, a new constitution, and a Bill of Rights. Wollstonecraft connects her arguments with the philosophies and politics of those recent events, so she begins with the idea that reason, virtue, and knowledge are vital qualities. Few philosophers of her era would disagree. In fact, her entire first chapter focuses on broader ideas about society and monarchy rather than women's rights. This is a necessary first step to persuade her audience, which would be other, predominantly male, intellectuals. Wollstonecraft wants to establish herself as an intellectual, too. If the reader agrees with her on these broader ideas, Wollstonecraft may be able to keep the reader on her side as she ventures into the far more controversial territory of women's education.
Still, Wollstonecraft does not play it safe in this chapter, directly attacking the controversial and highly influential philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau had arguments with organized religion, which may be why Wollstonecraft refers to him as "against God." He wrote extensively about humans in a "state of nature"—that in a healthy society, humans are naturally good to themselves and others. Wollstonecraft suggests he advocated an actual return to a primitive state, something most scholars agree he did not do. Rousseau and Wollstonecraft disagreed in many areas, and she will refer to him often throughout this book.
Wollstonecraft also addresses how a profession shapes a man's view of the world. Because women were not, and could not be, professionals, this is, by definition, a critique of men. Wollstonecraft agreed with John Locke, the Enlightenment philosopher whose ideas helped inspire the American Revolution. Locke emphasized the idea of a "social contract," which argued governments draw their power from the consent of the governed. Along similar lines Wollstonecraft objects to careers that require slavish obedience rather than the ability to think for one's self. She consistently rejects unquestioning obedience throughout the book.