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Susanne Sreedhar

Susanne Sreedhar

NIAS Theme Group

Project title

Domestic Subjection: Children, Wives, Servants, and Slaves

Research question

My research topics are marriage, the family, and servitude in early modern political philosophy. My research question is, in what ways were domestic relations of subordination theorized alongside and in contrast with forms of involuntary servitude?

Project description

Early modern thinkers typically discussed three forms of domestic rule in tandem: paternal, spousal, and master-servant relations. Most agreed with Aristotle that these forms of rule differ qualitatively. A minority, following Plato, collapsed them into one: “a son, a subject, and a servant or a slave, were one and the same thing at first” (Filmer 1991: 237). Part of the project is to examine and evaluate the various positions in this debate among philosophers in the early modern canon, e.g., Dutch philosopher Hugo Grotius (1583-1645); English philosophers Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), John Selden (1584-1654), and John Locke (1632-1704); and Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776). I also have a long-standing commitment to including the voices of women in the history of philosophy, a move whose importance is increasingly recognized in the field more generally. In the second part of the project, I will move beyond what canonical male figures have to say about domestic and involuntary servitude to draw in the views of women philosophers from the same era. I will study how early advocates for better treatment of women focused on the (dis-)analogy between marriage and slavery. Mary Astell (1666-1731) famously indicted classical social contract theorists by asking, “If all men are born free, how is it that all women are born slaves” (Preface to Reflections on Marriage, 1706). Taking this critique seriously, I will reconstruct the logic behind it to see if and how it can be answered.

Selected publications

Hobbes on Sex (under contract with Oxford University Press)

“Hobbes on Sexual Morality.” Hobbes Studies 33/1 (2020): 54-83.

“The Curious Case of Hobbes’s Amazons.” Journal of the History of Philosophy, 57/4 (October 2019): 621-646.

“Toward a Hobbesian Theory of Sexuality.” In Feminist Interpretations of Thomas Hobbes. Edited by Nancy Hirschmann and Joanne Wright. University Park: Penn State University Press, 2012: 260-79.

“Hobbes on ‘The Woman Question’.” Philosophy Compass 7/11 (November 2012): 772-81.