ABSTRACT

Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication o f the Rights o f Men (1790) and A Vindication o f the Rights o f Woman (1792)1 both begin with the premise that the inalienable right to liberty is a necessary condition for the creation of a society based on principles of justice and reason. The recognition that in the eighteenth century the right to liberty was operative for only some men - the propertied classes - and hardly any women does not, for Wollstonecraft, invalidate the principle of universal rights. The “ truth” of rights is not at issue in these texts: the category of the universal is not called into question because rights have been exclusively applied. Thus when Vindication o f the Rights o f Woman takes account of the specificity of women’s individual and civil rights it does so with the aim of refining and adding to the category of the universal, not repudiating it.