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Mary Wollstonecraft, Public Reason and the Virtuous Republic

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Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Social and Political Philosophy of Mary Wollstonecraft
EditorsSandrine Berges, Alan Coffee
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford Univerity Press; Oxford
Pages183-200
ISBN (Print)9780198766841
StatePublished - 24 Nov 2016

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Abstract

Although ‘virtue’ is a complex idea in Wollstonecraft’s work, one of its senses refers to the capacity and willingness to govern one’s own conduct rationally, and to employ this ability in deliberating about matters of public concern. Wollstonecraft understands virtue to be integral to the meaning of freedom rather than as merely instrumentally useful for its preservation. It follows, therefore, that a free republic must be a virtuous one. The first virtue of social institutions, we might say, is ‘virtue’ itself. In a virtuous republic all citizens, from no matter which social group, are able to represent themselves in law and in public debate. This is a demanding condition, requiring not just suitably robust republican institutions but an open and accommodating public culture in which sufficient numbers of citizens are positively engaged in ensuring that the available stock of background ideas and values is representative, diverse and inclusive.

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