Impressions in the Brain: Malebranche on Women, and Women on Malebranche

Intellectual History Review 22 (3):373-389 (2012)
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Abstract
In his De la recherche de la vérité (The Search after Truth) of 1674-75, Nicolas Malebranche makes a number of apparently contradictory remarks about women and their capacity for pure intellectual thought. On the one hand, he seems to espouse a negative biological determinism about women’s minds, and on the other, he suggests that women have the free capacity to attain truth and happiness, regardless of their physiology. In the early eighteenth-century, four English women thinkers – Anne Docwra (c. 1624-1710), Mary Astell (1666-1731), Damaris Masham (1659-1708), and Mary Chudleigh (1656-1710) – engaged with Malebranche’s ideas. Their writings reveal how we might dispel the apparent contradictions in Malebranche’s thinking about women, and reaffirm the liberating potential of Cartesian philosophy for women in the early modern period.
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