|Philosophers:||Lady Anne Finch Conway|
|[Life & Work] | [Links] | [Bibliography]|
|LIFE & WORK|
She was born in 1631, a week after the death of her father (Sir Heneage Finch, Speaker of the House of Commons). She was tutored (probably pretty perfunctorily) at home, where she learnt Latin (later adding Greek and Hebrew), and showed signs of considerable intellectual curiosity and ability. The Platonist, Henry More, had been the tutor of one of her brothers at Cambridge, and this led to his correspondence with her on the philosophy of Descartes.
More had corresponded with Descartes, and started off as a champion, with reservations, of Cartesian philosophy. His religious-based reservations, especially concerning Descartes' mechanistic account of the world, later grew into rejection.
The correspondence between More and his "heroine pupil" continued after her marriage to Edward Conway in 1651, though their relationship changed from one between tutor and pupil to one between equals. More stated that he had "scarce ever met with any Person, Man or Woman, of better Natural parts than Lady Conway".
Anne Conway followed a particularly unusual intellectual course -- not only for a woman, but for anyone at the time. From Cartesian philosophy she investigated the Lurianic cabbala, and finally converted to Quakerism (generally loathed and feared at the time).
Her philosophical work had another important source: her own physical pain. From youth she suffered from headaches so appalling that she tried cures that for most of us would be beyond consideration (including trepanning -- though no-one dared perform this operation, so instead she had her jugular arteries opened). Nothing worked, and she died in 1679, at only forty-seven.
I say that this was a source of her philosophical thought, for she was very much concerned to provide a theodicy -- an attempt to reconcile the existence of a benevolent god with the existence of suffering and other evil in the world. Modern readers need to be prepared for a religious flavour far more intense than most of her better-known philosophical contemporaries and near-contemporaries.
Her only work (though she collaborated with others on various works) was published posthumously, and itself suffered a strange series of tribulations. She probably wrote it - in English - between 1671 and 1675, and it was first published in a Latin translation in 1690. When an English edition was prepared in 1692, with the title The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, it had to be translated from the Latin translation, the original manuscript having been lost.
Apart from its value as a critical appraisal of the work of Descartes, Hobbes, and Spinoza, Conway had an influence on Leibniz (he acknowledges her work in correspondence), possibly even giving him the term "monad".
Secondary literature(largely lifted from Peter Suber's pages)