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Gournay, Marie le Jar de (1565–1645)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DA092-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2018
Retrieved June 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Marie de Gournay was a 17th-century French essayist and polemicist. She is most well known for her contribution to discussions of the French language, and for her uncompromising and lucid feminism. Gournay argued for the equality of the sexes at a time when that was an extremely uncommon stance. Most authors engaged in the long-running ‘querelle des femmes’ (or ‘debate about women’) advanced the idea that either women or men were superior. Gournay anticipated the egalitarianism that post-Cartesian feminists espoused later in the century, and was the first woman to do so. Her claim for equality was based on an understanding of sexual difference as restricted to the body, and limited to the functions of reproduction. In this, too, she was before her time, since most participants in the debate took bodily differences to be both important and indicative of intellectual and moral differences between the sexes. Gournay insisted on the sameness of men and women in all intellectual, moral and hence social and political respects.

She embraced a conception of human nature as essentially rational, and emphasized the importance of education for the full development of reason. Since she believed that knowledge was the basis of virtue, she advocated education as a necessary condition for moral maturity.

Gournay was influenced by the work of Montaigne, and adopted from him a critical attitude to received opinion. She advocated caution in accepting customary norms, and encouraged independent judgment as the best means toward cultivating reason and acquiring virtue.

Citing this article:
Deslauriers, Marguerite. Gournay, Marie le Jar de (1565–1645), 2018, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DA092-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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