In a tour de force of intellectual history, Siep Stuurman rediscovers the remarkable early Enlightenment figure François Poulain de la Barre. A dropout from theology studies at the Sorbonne, Poulain embraced the philosophy of Descartes, became convinced of the injustice and absurdity of the subjection of women, and assembled an entirely original social philosophy. His writings challenging male supremacy and advocating gender and racial equality are the most radically egalitarian texts to appear in Europe before the French Revolution.
In exploring Poulain's breakthrough, Stuurman sheds new light on the origins of the Enlightenment, the history of feminism, the emergence of rational Christianity, and the social and political implications of Descartes's philosophy. This groundbreaking work, the first comprehensive study of Poulain, brings to life the men and women of the Radical Enlightenment, who pioneered ideas about equality that would shape humankind to this day. Impeccably researched, cogently argued, and lucidly written, this is truly a masterpiece of scholarship.
This is a brilliant work: vastly original, deeply learned, and urgently needed. For the first time it gives Poulain, little known until recent decades, the full treatment warranted by the philosophical breakthrough he effected. The writing is superb. Stuurman makes dense philosophical arguments accessible without oversimplifying, and has an unusually good sense of what the reader needs to be told as he moves through his presentation. The book will without question assume an important place in Enlightenment scholarship and stimulate debate over the origins of modern liberal social thought.
I hardly suspected Poulain's importance until I was convinced of it by this thoroughly interesting and cogent book. Stuurman has a remarkably broad perspective on the history of philosophy, society, and political thought in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. There is a considerable amount of original research here that is exceptionally well integrated into the wider Enlightenment context, and the whole is very well written. Stuurman's discussion of Enlightenment debates about race and color among humanity is one of the most striking and original parts of the book. This is a fine work on an essential topic.
Stuurman rescues from obscurity the revolutionary thinking of Poulain de la Barre and shows him to be a political philosopher of singular importance whose vision of human equality, particularly the full participation of women, was breathtaking in its audacity. Beginning with the new metaphysics of matter in motion he found in Descartes, Poulain went on to lay a philosophical foundation for democracy. This brilliant book makes us rethink the meaning of early modern scientific thought as well as the entire fabric of early modern political philosophy and its boundaries.
The relevance of this study to the history of philosophy goes well beyond the rehabilitation of Cartesianism as an integral component of the history of feminist philosophy. It has wider and more enduring interest for the history of seventeenth and eighteenth-century philosophy through its rich contextualization of Poulain's writings socially and politically. For Siep Stuurman brings to it his extensive knowledge of the historical and cultural context of the French enlightenment, which is enriched by a familiarity with earlier periods and classical traditions often lacking in Enlightenment histories. His knowledge of primary sources is impressive. There is much to learn here about context and conditions in which philosophy was practised and received from the period of the early reception of Descartes's philosophy, to the age of the philosophes of the Enlightenment.
- 2004, Winner of the George L. Mosse Prize
- 376 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
Sorry, there was an error adding the item to your shopping bag.
Sorry, your session has expired. Please refresh your browser's tab.