Grounded in medical, juridical, and philosophical texts of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century France, this innovative study tells the story of how the idea of woman contributed to the emergence of modern science. Rebecca Wilkin focuses on the contradictory representations of women from roughly the middle of the sixteenth century to the middle of the seventeenth, and depicts this period as one filled with epistemological anxiety and experimentation. She shows how skeptics, including Montaigne, Marie de Gournay, and Agrippa von Nettesheim, subverted gender hierarchies and/or blurred gender difference as a means of questioning the human capacity to find truth; while "positivists" who strove to establish new standards of truth, for example Johann Weyer, Jean Bodin, and Guillaume du Vair, excluded women from the search for truth. The book constitutes a reevaluation of the legacy of Cartesianism for women, as Wilkin argues that Descartes' opening of the search for truth "even to women" was part of his appropriation of skeptical arguments. This book challenges scholars to revise deeply held notions regarding the place of women in the early modern search for truth, their role in the development of rational thought, and the way in which intellectuals of the period dealt with the emergence of an influential female public.
Table of Contents
Contents: Introduction; Common sense: Johann Weyer and the psychology of witchcraft; The touchstone of truth: Jean Bodin's torturous hermeneutics; Masle morale in the body politic: Guillaume du Vair and André du Laurens; The suspension of difference: Michel de Montaigne's lame lovers; 'Even women': Cartesian rationalism reconsidered; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.
'...original, interdisciplinary, timely, daring and an outstanding scholarly achievement. This work will force scholars to reevaluate deeply held notions about the place of women in the search for truth, their role in the development of rational thought, and the way scholars of the period dealt with the emergence of an influential female public. It will no doubt become essential reading for any scholar of early modern France.' Faith Beasley, Dartmouth College, USA ’This is an extraordinary book in terms of the extensive nature of the research and reading involved in its creation, in the complexity of the works read and the arguments drawn from those works and from rigorous comparisons of them, and in the originality of the conclusions drawn from these comparisons.’ Renaissance Quarterly ’Wilkin is to be commended for placing Descartes in the context of late Renaissance French thought encompassing medical and scientific treatises, moral and political treatises, and literary texts.’ H-France ’The strength of this book is its careful textural readings, which will appeal primarily to literary scholars and philosophers. Wilkin’s work is also engaged, however, in broader dialogues about early modern bodies, gender and theories of the mind.’ French Studies