You are not currently logged in.

Login through your institution for access.


Log in through your institution.

Wollstonecraft, Mill, and Women's Human Rights

Wollstonecraft, Mill, and Women's Human Rights OPEN ACCESS

Copyright Date: 2016
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
Stable URL:
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Wollstonecraft, Mill, and Women's Human Rights
    Book Description:

    A novel and important argument that the articulation of women’s rights was a necessary prerequisite to the development of a coherent and universal theory of human rights.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18616-1
    Subjects: Political Science
    × Close Overlay

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. The idea of women’s human rights is the view that women are entitled to equal rights with men because of the sexes’ shared status as human beings. Mary Wollstonecraft fi rst and John Stuart Mill after her were the primary philosophical architects of this view. Wollstonecraft developed a rational theological justification for the idea that women held equal rights alongside men, while Mill built a secular liberal utilitarian foundation for the same argument. Each of these watershed contributions to theories of women’s human rights—the first religious, the second secular—is best understood as emerging from a sequential (if often...

  2. The circuitous quality of intellectual histories of universal human rights seems to be unavoidable. Entering the debate on the origins of the modern idea of rights is much like stepping into the fantastical labyrinthine library imagined by Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges: one is forced to retrace one’s steps, and the steps of scholars past, in a futile attempt to find the elusive founding text to which the apparently infinite collection of books on human rights refers back. I begin, like most historians of rights, in late Enlightenment-era Europe, then turn back to the late medieval era and the Renaissance,...

  3. Natural rights theories—from the late medieval era to the late eighteenth century—had sidelined women for the most part. As shown in chapter 1, these theories had limited value for understanding women as rights-bearing subjects. The era of the French Revolution saw the rise of new theories of rights that conceived of women as moral, social, and political equals alongside men. Most notably, Mary Wollstonecraft revised the rational dissenting Protestant theology of her mentor Richard Price so that it explicitly justified the inclusion of women in the “rights of humanity.” Moreover, she theorized rights in deontological terms, like her...

  4. Despite their contrasting religious and secular approaches to the justification of universal human rights, Wollstonecraft and Mill saw the purpose of rights in a similar light. To claim any human right, moral or legal, was to simultaneously claim an even more expansive right to live, develop, and flourish as a human being. The enjoyment of some basic human rights—such as sustenance and security—was a minimal yet necessary condition for the sound growth of people, as individuals and in groups. However, many persons lacked the means—individually, socially, or politically—to initiate, let alone actualize, this process of human...

  5. Although Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill aspired to transcend time, place, and personal bias in the development of universalistic arguments for women’s human rights, they fell short of this noble moral goal. As Michel Foucault, Carol Gilligan, and Charles Taylor have diversely argued, it is improbable that any human mind could move wholly beyond the epistemological frames set by epoch, gender, culture, religion, nation, and politics. But does the psychological fact of mental rootedness absolutely prevent a person from thinking more globally than locally?¹

    This is a particularly important question of practical philosophy for human rights advocates. Human rights...

  6. Not solely philosophers of women’s human rights, Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill were also literary innovators. They creatively appealed to personal narratives as forms of evidence that made their allegations of women’s human rights more legitimate and persuasive in the court of public opinion. Long before the fact-gathering and testimonial approach of the human rights literature—which is based on witness, transcripts, reports, and empirical studies of crimes against humanity since the Second World War—Wollstonecraft and Mill used personal witness to shape a new genre, the literature of human rights.¹ Wollstonecraft thinly fictionalized her (and her friend Fanny’s...

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 International
This book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 International.
Funding is provided by Knowledge Unlatched