My work on Ottobah Cugoano highlights the significance of his 1787 work Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species (1787) in the history of philosophy by situating his abolitionism within the natural law tradition. I focus on Cugoano’s discussion of the moral conditions that could fully justify a lawful slavery under natural law in view of the distinction between ancient slavery and modern slavery. There, I believe that he establishes a notion of natural law that not only maintains moral preconditions in order to be recognized and obeyed, but also meets a social necessity to maintain society. In contrast to the existing scholarly literature, I contend that he treats natural law as more than just a rhetorical strategy of an eighteenth-century abolitionist text, for his argument strikes at the heart of the moral principles of natural law and contract theory in the history of philosophy, particularly as they relate to the forced enslavement of individuals.
My book manuscript Early Modern Women on War and Peace excavates the philosophical responses of early modern women to war and its catastrophic consequences. My analysis reveals the centrality of war to the development of early modern philosophy and the distinctive contribution that these early modern women philosophers make to thinking about this topic.
The Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), the English Civil Wars (1642–1651 and 1688–1689), and the French Civil Wars or La Fronde (1648–1653) brought about unprecedented violence, destruction, and challenges to political institutions and authority. During this time of extreme and continuous violence, a renewed evaluation of human nature became pervasive within intellectual circles throughout Europe as philosophers attempted to rethink the basis for political stability, religious tolerance, and, most significantly, ending conflict and minimizing bloodshed. Thinkers such as Hugo Grotius and Thomas Hobbes attended to the realities of perpetual warfare by transforming traditional ideas of authority and institutional organization, but they never questioned the role of war within the economic and social fabric of society; in particular, they never questioned its legitimacy.
My book project focuses on Elisabeth of Bohemia, Mary Astell, Madeleine de Scudéry, Madame de Lafayette, and Margaret Cavendish as they respond to the wars of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, conflicts whose political instability as well as economic and social devastation directly affected them. All these thinkers had distinct responses to wars, but they agreed that war itself is not an inevitable condition and that its consequences can outweigh its legitimacy. These key observations, among others, distinguished their thought from the prevalent theories of just war, which treated war as an essential aspect of the human condition. This book project attends to how these female writers saw the problem of war: not in theories of self-defense but centrally as a question of political right and legitimacy.