Cartesianism and 17th Century Arguments for Women’s Education

For Descartes, there are three central elements of res cogitans : the subjectivity, or experience, of thinking, the representational and reason governed nature of thought, and the interconnection between these two. In addition, this mind is closely united with a body. We can ask : How does one learn to be a thinking thing ? Or equally, can being a thinking thing be taught ? Descartes himself suggests that recognizing one’s own nature as a thinking thing is a deeply individual act, and so that these questions are misguided about the nature of thought. The appropriation of Cartesianism in the context of women’s education suggests otherwise. It is important to the very project of educating women that these very questions be asked. And the answers that philosophically minded educators of women, such as Poullain de la Barre, Madame de Maintenon and Gabrielle Suchon, afford insight into what it is to be a thinking thing.

Conférence de Lisa Shapiro


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