Venice, 1600: a book called The Nobility and Excellence of Women and the Defects and Vices of Men is published. It’s by Lucrezia Marinella (1571-1653), the educated daughter of a physician. She’s written before – her first work was published in 1595 – and she’ll carry on writing into the 1640s, but it’s The Nobility and Excellence of Women that she’ll largely be remembered for, and it’s her most clearly identifiable philosophical work.
Six and a half years ago – can it really be so many? – I was making decisions about where to apply to university as an undergraduate. At the time, I was one of those slightly odd teenagers who was weirdly into party politics. The sort that wants to be an MP one day, and goes on marches with the Young Labour faction (see this post’s picture). Pretty embarrassing to look back on. Anyway, I wanted to study politics at university. I also knew I wanted to apply to Oxford. So I applied for Philosophy Politics and Economics (PPE) at Oxford, and for straight Politics degrees at my other four choices. (Which were LSE, Leeds, Edinburgh and Queen Mary, incidentally). I got into Oxford. I did PPE.
I’m now doing a PhD researching early modern women philosophers. I also don’t want to be an MP any more, and in general try to distance myself from my seventeen-year-old-self as much as possible. What I find a little alarming and destabilising to think about, though, is this: if I hadn’t been lucky enough to get into Oxford back in late 2010, if I hadn’t ended up studying PPE rather than straight Politics, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t have taken a paper in Early Modern Philosophy: indeed, the closest I would have come to philosophy at all might have been a political theory course.
The problem with trying to introduce people to Anne Arbuthnot as a philosopher is that the most obvious route of introduction is through her aunt, Catharine Trotter Cockburn (1674/9-1749), and most people haven’t heard of her either. Cockburn, however, is very much established as a member of an alternative canon of early modern philosophy – that consisting of a variety of women philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries including Elisabeth of Bohemia, Anne Conway, Margaret Cavendish, Damaris Masham and Mary Astell in their number. While obscure in a general sense, she is very much a known name in the field. (She’s also studied by literary historians on account of her role as a female Restoration playwright and poet.) Anne Arbuthnot, though, is not.