The rights of woman as chimera: The political philosophy of Mary Wollstonecraft

Natalie Fuehrer Taylor, Fordham University


My dissertation examines the political theory of Mary Wollstonecraft. Most political scientists argue that Wollstonecraft's political thought is derivative of either Jean-Jacques Rousseau's or John Locke's political thought. Though A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is dedicated to a French diplomat, it is immediately clear that Wollstonecraft's primary interlocutor is Rousseau. Rousseau's ideal woman, Sophie, it seems to Wollstonecraft, departs from the fundamental tenets of Rousseau's explicitly political works, the natural equality and freedom of all human beings. In response to this Rousseau's characterization of woman, Wollstonecraft asserts the natural equality of women and demands that they are educated to be rational and virtuous counterparts to men. In making her case, some scholars suggest, Wollstonecraft sounds more like her earlier predecessor, John Locke, than Rousseau. My study of Wollstonecraft's political theory considers her relationship to each of these thinkers. Although I appreciate the valuable lessons Wollstonecraft gains from both Rousseau and Locke, I argue that Wollstonecraft departs from natural rights theory in two important respects, and consequently, rejects it as the foundation for her own political theory. In contrast to Rousseau and to Locke, Wollstonecraft does not argue that human beings are primarily motivated by self-preservation. Furthermore, political communities are not formed out of a desire to protect oneself from the aggression of others. Finally, I argue Wollstonecraft's political theory is consistent with that of Aristotle. Wollstonecraft's hope for the relationship between men and women can be more fully elaborated by a consideration of the teaching on friendship put forth by Aristotle in the Nichomachean Ethics. In this respect, my dissertation is an original approach to reading Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

Subject Area

Political science|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Taylor, Natalie Fuehrer, "The rights of woman as chimera: The political philosophy of Mary Wollstonecraft" (2004). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3125028.