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Political Ideas – Mary Wollstonecraft

5. Political Ideas: Wollstonecraft and -isms

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In this module, we explore Wollstonecraft’s place in the history of political thought, focusing in particular on: (i) changing attitudes towards Wollstonecraft as a political thinker over time; (ii) the problem with -isms; (iii) problems with characterising Wollstonecraft primarily as a “feminist”; (iv) that Wollstonecraft had liberal, feminist, and republican ideas, but characterised herself instead as a moralist and a philosopher; (v) Wollstonecraft as a thinker interested in human beings in general, not only women; (vi) the importance of physicality and the connection between mind and body to Wollstonecraft’s thought; (vii) Wollstonecraft’s view of human beings as naturally benevolent; (viii) the centrality of property to Wollstonecraft’s political ideas; (ix) the case for reading Wollstonecraft on her own terms.


This course explores the political ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft and may be particularly useful for those studying the Core Political Ideas component of the AQA and Edexcel Government and Politics A Level specifications. While she is best known as an early feminist, Dr Sylvana Tomaselli asks us here to instead consider Wollstonecraft in context as a key Enlightenment philosopher and moralist. We begin with an exploration of Wollstonecraft’s life and early works, before moving on in the second lecture to consider Burke’s ‘Reflections’ (1790) as key context for Wollstonecraft’s political ideas. We then turn in the third lecture to Wollstonecraft’s polemical ‘Vindication of the Rights of Men’ (1790), highlighting her critique of Burke – another named thinker under Core Political Ideas: Conservatism – and arguments concerning property. In the fourth lecture, we explore Wollstonecraft’s ‘Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1792), emphasising that, despite its title, this work is not only concerned with women. Instead, the second Vindication posits an ambitious political project: full moral revolution. Finally, in the fifth lecture, we make the case for reading Wollstonecraft on her own terms. Here, we engage directly with the problem of applying contemporary -isms to political thinkers.


Dr Sylvana Tomaselli is a Fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge and a specialist in the political thought of the Enlightenment. She writes and lectures on the history of women’s political thought, mind-body dualism, and the long eighteenth century. She teaches the three History of Political Theory Papers at Cambridge and is an Affiliated Lecturer in the Faculty of History and of Human, Social and Political Sciences. She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and recently published ‘Wollstonecraft: Philosophy, Passion, and Politics’ (2021).

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APA style

Tomaselli, S. (2022, March 22). Political Ideas – Mary Wollstonecraft - Political Ideas: Wollstonecraft and -isms [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Tomaselli, S. "Political Ideas – Mary Wollstonecraft – Political Ideas: Wollstonecraft and -isms." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 22 Mar 2022,

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