London: Printed for the Author, 1807. First edition. Contemporary paper spine over boards, with amateur rebacking and blank paper spine label. Measures 184 x 102mm and collates xxiv, 168: complete but for initial blank. Text block uncut, largely clean and tight. An exceptionally scarce survivor of this self-published epistemological treatise by a woman, which last appeared at auction almost a century ago in 1922. OCLC reports 8 copies known worldwide, with 3 of those at institutions in the U.S.
"As it becomes clear that there have been women philosophers throughout the history of western civilization, and in other cultures as well, historians of philosophy begin to look for those women who never made it into the histories of the field, or whose philosophical work never got published, or if published was ignored, but who are there to be discovered and studied. We can no longer assume that lack of approbation or attention from the philosophical establishment is automatically a sign of lack of philosophical merit" (McAlister). As specialists, scholars, curators, and collectors begin unearthing the work of previously unrecognized women, we gain new knowledge about how philosophical ideas traveled and evolved over time and what role women were playing among contemporaries in these fields. Sarah Ferris, the author of the present work, falls within this category. The author of only one published book, which is mentioned within both Watkins' and Allibone's dictionaries, her name does not appear elsewhere in histories or bibliographies. And yet her text on epistemology is complex and well informed, drawing on Plato and the Epicureans for discussions of art and aesthetics and applying Locke, Leibniz, and Spinoza to questions of theology and rationalism. More in line with theists like Kant or Bishop Berkeley, who did not experience cognitive dissonance in the enfolding of theology with philosophy, Ferris positions herself against atheistic rational arguments. Instead, she uses her empirical frameworks to posit in a more Humean framework that sense ties the spiritual and the rational. God has "given to us precisely that degree of sensibility which, considering everything, is best suited to our wants and necessities." A reading of Ferris' arguments raises important questions that scholars are increasingly addressing as they broaden their understanding of the field by including women's work. While an essentialist view of thinking can be dangerous, we must recognize that more diverse representation expands our ability to see how education and experience shape a philosopher's work. "While both males and females have inquired into the basic principles of science, mathematics, and human behaviors, when women philosophers have done this they frequently draw on their perspective as women...Indeed, this makes the philosophical topics and theories of women philosophers equally diverse and interesting as those which characterize 'traditional' male philosophers" (Waithe). An examination of Ferris' arguments as they concern religion, for example, opens the door to considering how women's training at the time within a religious framework, or within the expectation that they become wives and mothers, shaped her views on rationalism and sense. A consideration of its physical binding opens the door to comparisons among known copies and explorations about a woman's self-publishing and the distribution of her scholarly work (notably, the Edinburgh Review records the book for sale in its Education list of the same year). An rarity that deserves further study and attention. (Item #2693)