Enlightenment Study Questions

Study Questions for 2/2

Use specific examples from the text to answer one question about each text (about 75-150 words each). Bring hard copy to class.

Wollstonecraft, “Vindication of the Rights of Woman”

  1. To what does Wollstonecraft attribute women’s current inferior position in society? How does she think it can be changed?
  1. Wollstonecraft critiques what others have written about women and their education. What does she mean when she says that they “render women pleasing at the expense of every solid virtue” (134)?
  1. Why does Wollstonecraft compare women to soldiers? In what way, according to her, are the two groups similar? How does this example relate to her larger argument?


Kant, “What is Enlightenment?”

  1. What does Kant mean when he writes that we do not live in an “enlightened age” but in an “age of enlightenment”? What is the difference between the two?
  1. How does Kant differentiate between public and private uses of reason?
  1. Kant argues that “if only freedom is granted enlightenment is almost sure to follow.” What does he mean here by freedom? Who grants it? It is absolute?
  1. What limits does Kant put on the free exercise of reason? Why?

1 thought on “Enlightenment Study Questions

  1. In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft emphasizes the significance of “order” in women’s educational development to gain equality to men because without it one is simply resting on life experience and, as she states, a “negligent kind of guess-work” to form judgments and assessments that are inherently flawed because of the inadequate method of deduction used. The only education provided to women was one of acquiring traits and mannerisms that would make them suitable wives. As such, their only true value in society is provided by man, weakening their character and maintaining them in a state of subordination. For women to be able to enter the male public sphere, women must first have access to the same knowledge that men are privy to so that they may too use educated methods of logic and reason to deduce and come to informed conclusions.

    In the text, Wollstonecraft is not merely stating that aristocratic privilege and patriarchal rule have similarities, but that they are intrinsically one in the same. A hierarchal system which ranks the educated male above all others, and subjugates the female.

    However, the author also emphasizes that the value the rich put on artificial refinement and vanity render them helpless and undermine the “foundation of virtue” that she claims is imperative to “influence on general practice”. In other words, because the aristocratic are transfixed on frivolity they cannot have an overall worthy participation and influence on matters common to all. This notion can also be applied to womankind; who in their misfortune have been limited to an education based on such superficial notions in reference to their societal participation.

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