Mary Astell

A Serious Proposal To The Ladies

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A Serious Proposal To The Ladies Summary

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A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, for the Advancement of Their True and Greatest Interest is a pioneering feminist essay written by the British author Mary Astell. The text, which is often referred to by the shortened title A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, appeared in two parts. The first was published in 1694, while the second, A Serious Proposal, Part II, appeared in 1697. In the essay, Astell presents an argument for the uniform education of the women of the time in both religious and secular fields.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England in 1666, Astell received no formal education during her formative years, which was standard for women of the time and place. However, she was educated informally by an uncle who was an ex-clergyman in the Church of England. Astell’s uncle ensured that she was well-versed in both religious scholarship and secular philosophy, primarily the writings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.

When her last living family member passed away in 1688, Mary moved to London and joined a circle of educated, literary women, including Lady Mary Chudleigh, Elizabeth Thomas, Judith Drake, Elizabeth Elstob, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Encouraged by her new circle of acquaintances, Astell began to develop the ideas that would become A Serious Proposal to the Ladies.

The primary purpose of A Serious Proposal to the Ladies is to argue for advancing women’s education. However, Astell also advocates for extending the work opportunities available to women as well as a system of higher education exclusively for women of the court. She makes the case that, in addition to making women more productive members of society, education also makes them more moral people and more likely to be deserving of going to Heaven according to Christian principals.

Astell begins by outlining different modes of intelligence, defining the differences between faith, science, opinion, moral certainty, and sensation. She suggests that some of these types of intelligence require more knowledge to attain, and thus many women are denied access to these higher orders of thinking due to inadequate education.

She goes on to make the case that women in England are educated informally and subsequently, they do not gain information in a systematic fashion. This tends to produce women who know a little about many topics but do not have scholarly mastery of any one subject. She recommends creating a place where women can be educated in a more formal way so that they gain a relatively large amount of knowledge about a relatively few number of important topics. She also maintains that from this strong foundation women can go on to become scholars in any topic they desire.

Astell outlines an idea for a school system in which women are educated with only other women as their teachers and classmates. To accomplish this, she wants to establish a system of monastery schools where women are sequestered from men during their school-age years. She proposes that without the distraction of having men around, women will be able to concentrate more intensely on their studies and focus on refining their souls and becoming more moral people.

To Astell, education is an essential component of being a good Christian. Knowledge allows people to identify moral conundrums and reason their way to the best possible solution. Without being able to understand their experiences and make informed choices, women do not have the same opportunities as men to get into Heaven. She argues that God gave women the ability to become intelligent, so it is wrong to not make use of that ability. She supports this position by drawing from Descartes’ writings on mind-body duality. If women, like men, have the ability to reason, then women should not be treated poorly or disallowed the right to exercise their skills.

However, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies is not solely concerned with spiritual matters. It also makes a strong argument for the material gains equal education affords to women. She also suggests that work opportunities beyond being a wife or a nun should be opened to women. If women become educated, it would be wrong to deny them the ability to apply their knowledge either through advanced scholarship or the opportunity to do useful work for society.

In addition to her pioneering feminist writings, Astell was well-respected in her day as a philosopher and rhetorician. She was famous for her willingness to debate both men and women publicly. During the course of her debates and defenses of A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Astell developed a new method for negotiating and defending the position of women in society. Rather than argue from a historical precedent, as her predictors had attempted, she approached the question of women’s roles and potential with a philosophical bent, drawing support from Descartes and other contemporaries in the world of philosophy.