Review of Broad’s Philosophy of Mary Astell

Jacqueline Broad, The Philosophy of Mary Astell: An Early Modern Theory of Virtue, Oxford University Press, 2015, 205pp., $70.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780198716815.

Reviewed by Penny Weiss, St. Louis University

It is hard to believe that it was only in 1986 that the first two modern books on Mary Astell were published, one a biography, the other a collection of complete and excerpted works. In the 30 years since, all of Astell’s major writings have been made available, several with substantive introductions, and three monographs, an anthology of critical essays, and dozens of academic articles from multiple disciplines have been published. We can now add to the growing list this book by Jacqueline Broad, who has mastered and engages with all of this primary and secondary literature. Broad is the first to read Astell’s texts as parts of “a united and consistent” (5) philosophical system with a moral theory at its core, which she importantly claims is how Astell understood her own work. Broad’s unmistakable grasp of Astell does not always manifest itself evenly; one chapter tackles a particular work while another deals with a theme and yet another makes central a conflict in the secondary literature. Further, one chapter is overwhelmed by comparisons with those who influenced Astell, in another they rarely appear, and in none but the conclusion are contemporary links pursued, though they practically beg to be explored. Nonetheless, everyone will learn from this text, several debates about Astell are resolved in it, and Astell’s philosophical status is generally elevated.

Continue at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews


The Philosophy of Mary Astell: An Early Modern Theory of Virtue by J. Broad OUP, 2015

The Philosophy of Mary Astell: An Early Modern Theory of Virtue

Jacqueline Broad

Mary Astell (1666–1731) is best known today as one of the earliest English feminists. This book sheds new light on her writings by interpreting her first and foremost as a moral philosopher—as someone committed to providing guidance on how best to live. The central claim of this work is that all the different strands of Astell’s thought—her epistemology, her metaphysics, her philosophy of the passions, her feminist vision, and her conservative political views—are best understood in light of her ethical objectives. To support that claim, this work examines Astell’s programme to bring about a moral transformation of character in her fellow women. This ethical programme draws on several key aspects of seventeenth-century philosophy, including Cartesian and Neoplatonist epistemologies, ontological and cosmological proofs for the existence of God, rationalist arguments for the soul’s immateriality, and theories about how to regulate the passions in accordance with reason. At the heart of Astell’s philosophical system lies a theory of virtue, including guidelines about how to cultivate generosity of character, a benevolent disposition towards others, and the virtue of moderation. This book explains the foundations of that moral theory, and then examines how it shapes and informs Astell’s response to male tyranny within marriage and to political tyranny in the state. It concludes with some reflections on the historiographical implications of writing Mary Astell back into the history of philosophy.


Print publication date: 2015 Print ISBN-13: 9780198716815
Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2015 DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198716815.001.0001

Keywords: Mary Astell, benevolence, existence of God, feminism, generosity, immateriality of the soul, moral theory, the passions, tyranny, virtue of moderation

Review of Mary Astell, The Christian Religion

Mary Astell, The Christian Religion, as Professed by a Daughter of the Church of England, Jacqueline Broad (ed.), Iter and the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2013, 344pp., $32.00 (pbk), ISBN 9780772721426.

Reviewed by Nancy Kendrick, Wheaton College (MA) for Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (

This first complete modern edition of Mary Astell’s “most profound and significant scholarly achievement” (p. 20) is a much needed and welcome addition to Astell studies, and more generally, to the study of early modern philosophy. Jacqueline Broad’s text follows Astell’s revised second edition of The Christian Religion, as Professed by a Daughter of the Church of England, published in 1717. The first edition had appeared in 1705.

See here for complete review.