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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Mary Wollstonecraft : forerunner of positive liberty and communitarianism Stanley, Michelle Joelene


This thesis explores the extent to which Mary Wollstonecraft can be associated with the philosophical conversation about liberty, in which John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and John Stuart Mill are familiar names. Wollstonecraft was a woman whose appearance in this discourse was well-known during her lifetime; however, due to her unorthodox lifestyle and her gender, she was discredited after her death. My research corrects this omission by placing her within the canon as a philosopher of liberty. In particular, an analysis of her A Vindication of the Rights of Men, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution, and Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark in light of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor’s work, reveals Wollstonecraft’s position as an early proponent of what comes to be called positive liberty and communitarianism. Positive liberty, loosely defined, is the idea that freedom requires more than the absence of restraint; there are certain actions that government and society need to take to ensure citizens’ freedom. Communitarianism, which proposes that true freedom may only be found in a certain form of society, is closely linked with ideas of positive liberty. Indeed, Wollstonecraft’s call for national public education and the restructuring of the property system, in conjunction with her recognition of the public and political nature of the ‘private’ family, is evidence that not only was she a proponent of positive liberty and communitarianism, but her philosophy was ahead of its time.

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