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Locke on women's rationality

Giuliana Di Biase


Feminist scholars deny that Locke attributed women a level of rationality identical to that of men; Nancy Hirschmann agrees with this claim, yet she insists that Locke did not conceive of this difference as natural but rather as artificially constructed through the sexual division of labour. This paper contends that sound evidence in Locke’s works suggests that the opposite was true: in Some Thoughts concerning Education he criticized mothers’ irrationality, and elsewhere he described women as easy prey for vehement passions, which could hardly be reconciled with rational behaviour. As a physician, Locke fully agreed with the medical literature of his time, which viewed women’s rational ability as naturally inferior to men’s because of their weak physical constitution.


Locke; women; rationality; passions; physics

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