A Vindication Of The Rights Of Women

To me, the heart of her argument’s current value (assuming that we can all agree that women are not inherently inferior to men and don’t need to be told that anymore; though it is still almost certainly true the we do still need to be told) is an educational one (perhaps why she take special offense at the educational writings of Rousseau). Proper education leads to people of any gender becoming fully moral creatures. The failure to properly educate women leads to them lacking, in most cases, full moral agency. At the same time, the rearing of children, who we want to be grow into moral creatures, is left to them, so shouldn’t we educate them properly so that they can raise the next generation of moral agents?

While usually coached in broader terms (we should educate women and here is why), towards the end she takes time to criticize boarding schools and being soul crushing and advocates for classless (that, without distinction between social classes), co-ed, local schooling. She even suggests school uniforms to erase socio-economic signifiers.

Rousseau is a special target of criticism (and his views on women, to modern ears, are outlandishly retrograde) and she quotes liberally and at length from him, particularly from Emilie (where he discusses the hypothetical education of a Sophie who, it’s safe to say, does not receive the same level of instruction as her male counterpart). But while reading her takedown of him, I kept going back to an anecdote I read: James Boswell (of Johnson fame) had sought out Rousseau and ingratiated himself into his company and eventually escorted his partner across the English Channel, but also either seduced or was seduced by Rousseau’s lover. Shallow of me, I know, but while being inspired by Wollstonecraft to reject him, it’s humorous to think of him being cuckolded.

She also takes some time to reject the value of Fordyce’s Sermons. I know of these because there are mentioned by characters in the novels of Jane Austen (I think the Bennett’s unpleasant cousin reads from them). She rejects them because his writing is too florid and encouraging sensibility. As you might guess, she does not mean by sensibility what we mean. You might think of it as meaning being too emotional or not sufficiently rational. To return to Jane Austen, the title Sense and Sensibility might give you a clue that she, at least, does not think ‘sensibility’ to be what we would call sensible.

It’s not all education, though. While not well advanced nor elucidated, she seems to make an argument for something like a minimum basic income and also notes what psychologists now understand about how poverty itself leads to bad decisions. She speaks of how poverty can lead to a ‘frigid system of economy which narrows both heart and mind.’

A touch of patriotism stirred my heart as I read this line:

But the days of true heroism are over, when a citizen fought for his country like a Fabricius or a Washington, and then returned to his farm to let his virtuous fervor run in a more placid, but not less salutary stream.

She takes a moment in the final chapter to advocate for healthy living. Nothing fancy: diet, exercise, and listening to legitimate medical professionals. I say legitimate because she singles out some quacks, among them ‘magnetizers.’ Interestingly, her daughter’s famous novel was inspired by curiosity about new and sometimes quackish ideas about life and health. Also, interesting: quacks are still selling magnets for health benefits today.

Notes On Virginia

You can see Jefferson’s regular topics and conceits clearly here. A chapter on religion is mainly about the religious freedom he so assiduously (and successfully; he wrote the statute) championed in Virginia. On education, it reflect the inadequacy of both the physical and curricular structure of William & Mary, then the state’s only college; arguments no doubt in support of his quest to establish the University of Virginia at the base of his mountain. You see Jefferson the amateur scientist (and a fascinating digression into some amateur archaeology that he undertook on a Native American burial mound.

On manufacturing, his disdain for large scale production is clear (despite the fact that very nearly his only profitable venture was a nail factory he built on his lands). It feels a little naive, to disdain creating finished goods here, beyond basic items, but it fits with his pastoral/agricultural republicanism. Like Socrates, he seems to think smaller polities are better.

On race… the less said the better. He was at a point where his views were evolving and not for the better. He is open to the idea that the native peoples could achieve a cultural status close to whites, but that “generosity” only reminds the modern reader of the anti-black racism running through his brain.

Takeaway quote (from the religion section):

It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.

And you know what? In this day, his vigorous, anthropological critique of religious oppression may seem commonsensical today, in the eighteenth century it was far more daring and outre.

Doesn’t make up for the racism, though.

‘Through Nature To God’ By John Fiske

Have you ever had one of those experiences where you agree with someone, but really wish you didn’t, because the person was so annoying?

That is how I felt about Through Nature to God.

How did I even come to this point? I was reading through a selected works of the great American philosopher, Josiah Royce, and came across some references to some other American philosophers from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including… John Fiske. I decided, foolishly, to look for him and found Through Nature to God.

Whether it was the unsupported leaps, the leaning on poorly understood science (giving, though, some allowance for the fact that our understanding has grown since Fiske was writing), or the references to Herbert Spencer, which always, to me, at least, carry a pungent whiff of social darwinism.

He argues that the biological sciences, mostly, though not exclusively, evolution, argue for  God. He does not make a particular argument for the Judeo-Christian God, but clearly for a theistic one.

While I do, personally, see God working, at a distance, through evolution, his strident tones and arch language make it all seem… icky.

The best thing I can say about it… it’s a short book.


Ice is considered a sort of lost classic and it didn’t disappoint. Technically science fiction in a post-apocalyptic mode, it takes place after an event (probably man made, but the unnamed protagonist honestly does not know for sure) results in a quickly creeping ice age enveloping the earth, constantly narrowing the band of habitable land and resulting in civil breakdown, wars for ever more scarce resources and the rise of local warlords.

The protagonist is obsessed with a girl with pale skin and nearly white hair who has known since she was a child. Abused in some way, she is drawn to abusive men. The protagonist, it is made clear, is probably no more than the best of a bad bunch.

The tone is stark and nameless (no names of people nor countries) and matched by the first person narration of a soldier for hire who is driven by his obsession/love/nostalgia for this mostly unattainable woman (partly because she is often kept by more violent and powerful men than he).

I hate to use this term, but I kept on thinking of this as Kafkaesque. The lack of definite names and quest for something close, but unattainable and also incomprehensible.

Great book. Really. Great.

‘Essays Towards A Theory Of Knowledge’ By Alexander Philip

While a respected public intellectual in his day (the early twentieth century), he’s certainly not someone anyone would recognize today as being a top tier epistemologist, metaphysician, nor thinker. Which would probably come as a surprise to Mr. Philip, who clearly felt that he had hit upon some excellent truths, whose veracity was easy to see once he’d made his thinly supported assertions clear.

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The Marsh At The End Of The World

I don’t really have much to add or say, I just thought that this was a wonderful and painfully elegiac piece of ‘scientific pastoral’ about the decay of coastal marshes.

‘The Marsh at the End of the World,’ by Elizabeth Rush, printed in Guernica

The Sunday Paper – Shuffling The Tarot Deck

Economic model or astrological tool?
Economic model or astrological tool?

Economists use ‘mathiness’ to disguise their astrologies.

Old fashioned literary hate mail is the best literary hate mail. Today’s internet trolls just can’t compare to the greats of the genre.

We just don’t make good polymaths anymore.