Adversaries or allies? Occasional thoughts on the Masham-Astell exchange

Eighteenth-Century Thought 1:123-49 (2003)
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Against the backdrop of the English reception of Locke’s Essay, stands a little-known philosophical dispute between two seventeenth-century women writers: Mary Astell (1666-1731) and Damaris Cudworth Masham (1659-1708). On the basis of their brief but heated exchange, Astell and Masham are typically regarded as philosophical adversaries: Astell a disciple of the occasionalist John Norris, and Masham a devout Lockean. In this paper, I argue that although there are many respects in which Astell and Masham are radically opposed, the two women also have a surprising amount in common. Rather than interpret their ideas solely in relation to the ‘canonical’ philosophies of the time – Lockean empiricism and Malebranchean occasionalism – I examine the ways in which Astell and Masham are influenced by the metaphysical theories of the Cambridge Platonists, Ralph Cudworth and Henry More. On this basis, I argue that a remarkably similar theological approach underlies the metaphysical and feminist arguments of Astell and Masham.



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Jacqueline Broad
Monash University

Citations of this work

A Minimalist Account of Love.Getty L. Lustila - 2021 - In Rachel Fedock, Michael Kühler & T. Raja Rosenhagen (eds.), Love, Justice, and Autonomy: Philosophical Perspectives. New York: Routledge. pp. 61-78.
Mary Astell.M. Sowal - 2005 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Lady Damaris Masham.Sarah Hutton - 2020 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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Appendix.[author unknown] - 1994 - Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft Und Geistesgeschichte 68 (1):289-289.
Appendix.[author unknown] - 2009 - Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 37 (S1):129-151.

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