Volume 1, Issue 1, Fall 2012
Shaping the Republic of Letters: Communication, Correspondence and Networks in Early Modern Europe
Acts of admiration: Wondrous Women in Early Modern Philosophy
This paper examines three sets of correspondence in the early modern tradition in order to bridge natural philosophy and practical philosophy by means of the notion of admiration, which Descartes mentions in article 53 of Traité des Passions de l’âme as “the first of all the passions”. I will thus first look at the correspondence of Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia (1618-1680) and René Descartes (1596–1650) in which Elisabeth is a cause of wonder, and who herself inspires Descartes to understand passions better than he had before. Not only does she challenge his mind/body dualism, but she also attempts to instill an appreciation of the personal in philosophy. Wonder is thus not only physiological and passive, but also inspiring and active. Second, the correspondence of Henry More (1614–1687) and Viscountess Anne Conway (1631–1679) spell out further depths of friendship and love. In their interaction, the active life is as much about their care for each other, and Henry’s concern for Anne’s health in particular, as the philosophical content of their relationship. Third, the correspondence between John Norris (1657–1711) and Mary Astell (1668–1731) reveal the transition from abstract philosophy to practical philosophy and, in their interaction, the young wonder Astell teaches Norris about the importance of loving others. This is not a mere curiosity in the history of wonder, but a real and lasting relationship in which
Astell inspires Norris to better himself.