Prof. Deb Brown and Assoc. Prof. Jacqui Broad 

There are a number of recent studies devoted to Mary Astell’s early modern theory of virtue—her “serious proposal to the ladies,” to help women obtain wisdom, virtue, equality, and happiness, despite the prejudices of seventeenth-century custom. But there has been little scholarship on Astell’s conception of the heroic virtues, those exceptional character traits that raise their bearers above the ordinary course of nature. Astell’s appropriation of heroic virtue poses a number of difficulties for her feminist ethical program— the problem of the hyper-masculinity of heroic virtue; the paradox of supposing that every ordinary woman can become extraordinary; and tensions between the external motivators of heroism and the internalisation of moral virtue. In this paper, we seek to investigate—and then dispel—these key difficulties. Our intention is to generate a new understanding of Astell’s theory of virtue as a unique and sophisticated theory that equalises and naturalises heroic virtue for women.