"A great championess for her sex": Sarah Chapone on liberty as nondomination and self-mastery

The Monist 98 (1):77-88 (2015)
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This paper examines the concept of liberty at the heart of Sarah Chapone’s 1735 work, The Hardships of the English Laws in Relation to Wives. In this work, Chapone (1699-1764) advocates an ideal of freedom from domination that closely resembles the republican ideal in seventeenth and eighteenth- century England. This is the idea that an agent is free provided that no-one else has the power to dispose of that agent’s property—her “life, liberty, and limb” and her material possessions—according to his arbitrary will and pleasure, without being accountable to the law. This paper shows how Chapone uses this ideal to ground her arguments against those laws that put married women in a worse condition than slavery, and to call for the establishment of reasonable and just safeguards for a woman’s personal property and property in her children. More than this, it is argued, in this text Chapone articulates a feminist ideal that is both negative freedom from domination and positive freedom to be one’s own master or arbiter. Her work thus occupies a unique—and hitherto unrecognized—place in the history of feminist philosophy.
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Archival date: 2015-09-22
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