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The Social and Political Philosophy of Mary Wollstonecraft$
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Sandrine Bergès and Alan M. S. J. Coffee

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198766841

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198766841.001.0001

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Mary Wollstonecraft’s Conception of Rights

Mary Wollstonecraft’s Conception of Rights

(p.148) 8 Mary Wollstonecraft’s Conception of Rights
The Social and Political Philosophy of Mary Wollstonecraft

Susan James

Oxford University Press

Mary Wollstonecraft is celebrated for her Vindication of the Rights of Woman. However, while her title suggests that rights must play an important part in improving women’s situation, it is less clear how she envisages them. What does she think rights are and how are they to transform women’s lives? This chapter argues that Wollstonecraft blends two traditions, a republican conception of rights as powers to act, and a distinct conception of natural rights. She offers a radical development of republican rights theory, but, in order to resolve one of the problems it poses, resorts to divinely ordained rights of nature. Is she alone in combining these two stances? The final part of the chapter shows that she is not. Her position belongs to a historical trend in which republicanism gives way to a liberal outlook grounded on individual natural rights.

Keywords:   Wollstonecraft, rights, republicanism, rights as powers, natural rights theory, Machiavelli, Spinoza, Locke, Burke, Price

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