Acta Cogitata: An Undergraduate Journal in Philosophy


In A Serious Proposal to the Ladies parts I and II, Mary Astell argues that social conditioning impacts women’s self-image in such a way as to prevent them from striving for scholarly achievement. Astell’s solution is to allow women to withdraw from society into dedicated schools for women and by women, as an alternative to marriage and family life. In this paper, I will explore some of the implications of that argument, how it might be expanded to other marginalized populations, and argue that despite Astell’s proposed solution being proven to create at least as many problems as it solves, the groundwork laid in her arguments can form a basis for a functional model of educational justice today. We have learned that “separate, but equal” education is not a solution to the problem of “achievement gaps” between privileged and marginalized populations. If social conditioning impacts educational drive and achievement for women, then it also impacts other oppressed populations. I maintain that subverting this structural oppression is a key to dismantling it and achieving educational justice. The typical foundations for educational justice come from the imperative that education makes better citizens or that education allows further education on a topic. I maintain that if the goal is educational justice, it is necessary to overcome the determinants of social conditioning.

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