An IASH Work-in-Progress seminar, delivered by Professor Deborah Boyle (College of Charleston):
Lady Mary Shepherd
Lady Mary Shepherd (1777–1847) grew up outside Edinburgh and later went on to write two books, the Essay Upon the Relation of Cause and Effect (1824) and Essays on the Perception of an External Universe (1827). In these books she engages closely with the work of David Hume and Scottish “common sense” philosophers such as Thomas Reid, Dugald Stewart, and Thomas Brown. In contrast to Hume (who argued that our knowledge of various principles is based only on habitual associations among ideas in our minds) and Reid, Stewart, and Brown (who argued that our knowledge of such principles is due to instincts built into human nature), Shepherd argues that we can know basic principles of causation and the existence of the external world through reason, specifically a process she calls “latent reasoning.”
Shepherd’s philosophical writings were well received in her own time; for example, in an 1868 talk regarding the role of philosophy in women’s education, Scottish philosopher Alexander Campbell Fraser mentioned Shepherd, saying that in her books she “discusses with great ingenuity and acuteness some of the profoundest questions to which the human mind can be applied.” Yet Shepherd’s writings have received little attention since the mid-nineteenth-century. This has started to change just in the past five years, as historians of philosophy finally start to examine Shepherd’s arguments. Since there is currently so little secondary literature on Shepherd, I am currently writing a “guidebook” (to be published by Oxford University Press) to lead newcomers through her two books in a systematic way. In this talk I will introduce Shepherd’s work and discuss how it fits into the philosophical context of the long eighteenth century.
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