Freedom as Independence: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Grand Blessing of Life

Hypatia, 2014 Forthcoming

23 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2014

See all articles by Alan Coffee

Alan Coffee

King's College London – The Dickson Poon School of Law; King's College London

Date Written: May 30, 2013


Independence is a central and recurring theme in Mary Wollstonecraft’s work. Independence should not be understood as an individualistic ideal that is in tension with the value of community but as an essential ingredient in successful and flourishing social relationships. I examine three aspects of this rich and complex concept that Wollstonecraft draws on as she develops her own notion of independence as a powerful feminist tool. First, independence is an egalitarian ideal that requires that all individuals, regardless of sex, be protected to a comparable extent in all areas of social, political, and economic life, no matter whether this is in the public or private sphere. Second, so long as this egalitarian condition is not compromised, independence allows for individuals to perform differentiated social roles, including along gendered lines. Finally, the ongoing and collective input of both women and men is required to ensure that the conditions necessary for social independence are maintained. In Wollstonecraft’s hands, then, independence is a powerful ideal that allows her to argue that women must be able to act on their own terms as social and political equals, doing so as women whose perspectives and interests may differ from men’s.

Keywords: Wollstonecraft, Freedom, Autonomy, Independence, Non-Domination, Feminism, Republicanism, Motherhood

Suggested Citation

Coffee, Alan, Freedom as Independence: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Grand Blessing of Life (May 30, 2013). Hypatia, 2014 Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Alan Coffee (Contact Author)

King's College London – The Dickson Poon School of Law ( email )

Somerset House East Wing
London, WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom


King's College London ( email )

London, England WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom

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