Announcement: Meet Lady Mary Shepherd, our newest philosopher!

Meet Lady Mary Shepherd: New Philosopher on Project Vox!


Enter Lady Mary Shepheard
Imbued with a taste for
Prose, poesy, paste
Metaphysics to lull her
Polemics
-Samuel Coleridge

Mary Shepherd (1777-1847) was a Scottish philosopher who engaged with numerous scientific and philosophical issues of her era within an especially rich intellectual context. Shepherd (née Primrose) joined her family in splitting time between Edinburgh, in their estate in Dalmeny, and London until she married at the age of 30. In London, the Primrose family rented Holland House, where a well-known salon run by the Fox family was held; the house was a center of early 18th century political discussions among the Whigs. After her marriage, Shepherd’s academic circles included many of the most famous and best-known intellectual figures of the early 19th century in England and Scotland. Her home was the epicenter of intellectual circles during her time and was likened to a salon for the well-educated to discuss and debate their ideas.

Mary Shepherd’s intellectual network involved an impressive list of leading philosophical, literary and scientific figures, including the scientist Charles Babbage, the philosophers Mary Somerville and William Whewell, the economist David Ricardo, and the writers Mary Shelley and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In a letter to Charles Babbage, Mary Shepherd herself explains how her intellectual formation encouraged her philosophical predilections:

“I can truly say that from a very early age, I have examined my thought, as to its manner of reasoning in numbers; and from time to time have applied such notices to other reasonings, either for amusement or improvement; —indeed chiefly in order to chastise the vague, illusory, illogical method of reasoning admitted with every part of discourse, whether gay, or serious, & into each department of literature however important its object.”

In her two major publications, Essay Upon the Relation of Cause and Effect (1824) and Essays on the Perception of An External Universe (1827), along with various other articles, she tackles a wide range of late modern philosophical issues. She writes on causal relations, perception, the nature of time, the mind-body relation, the philosophical import of dreaming, and much else besides. In her two principal books, she also presents deep and insightful criticisms of David Hume’s understanding of causation and of George Berkeley’s idealism about the material world. In the first half of the 19th century, her work received considerable recognition in British intellectual life. Despite these historical facts, her work was later excised from dominant narratives of the development of philosophy in late modern Europe.


In other news:

  • Check out our newest blog series, Project Vox Classroom! If you work in or are a student of Philosophy education, k-12 or college-level, and would like to contribute, please reach out to projectvox@duke.edu.
  • There has been a lot of Philosophy buzz about Mary Astell’s library, recently unearthed by deputy librarian at Magdalen College, Catherine Sutherland. Project Vox featured a blog about this collection in November found here co-authored by Catherine Sutherland and Jacqueline Broad!
  • Our partners have a YouTube channel on the History of Women Philosophers, check it out!