“I perceive and bless God for it, that my Lady Conway was my Lady Conway to her last Breath; the greatest Example of Patience and Presence of Mind, in highest Extremities of Pain and Affliction, that we shall easily meet with: Scarce any thing to be found like her since the Primitive times of the Church.”
Anne Conway was a rarity. There’s no other way to put it. She was a great female philosopher who worked with many men in the field. Being a woman at this time was hard, and to become respected in your field was very, very uncommon. However, Anne did it. After her death, the book she wrote was published and all her ideas were shown to the world. Anne was radical in her way of thinking, but she was true to what she believed and as you can tell, her mentor (Henry More) was very proud of that fact.
Anne was born on December 14th, 1631 and died on February 18th, 1679. A week before she was born, her father died. Her mother remarried and she had other siblings added to the bunch. Her childhood was spent studying languages and dealing with an ailment. When she was twelve years old she suffered a fever and from then on, she experienced periods of severe migraines. Due to this, they tried a number of different treatments including cutting her jugulars, trying tobacco, coffee, opium, and other dangerous things. None of the remedies worked and she eventually succumbed to her illness.
Anne Conway’s intellectual capacity was not breached though. Her step (or half) brother studied at the University of Cambridge and through him she met Henry More who was a Cambridge Platonist. Since she was a woman, he could not teach her at the university so they corresponded through letters. Their relationship was strong and soon enough, Anne Conway became Henry More’s intellectual equal. The remained friends for life. Henry More taught Anne on a Cartesian basis. They discussed famous philosophers like Aristotle, Plato, Descartes, Hobbes and Spinoza. They discussed things on a Cartesian basis. Later, however, Anne’s study of the Jewish kabbalah led her to break ties to the Cartesian way of thinking.
Anne did get married and later was pregnant. She had a son named Heneage who died in infancy with small pox. Ms. Conway would not release her baby and became sick with small pox herself. She did recover however, and continued with her passion for philosophy.
In Anne’s last few years, she lived with a doctor named Francis Mercury van Helmont because her headaches were so severe. He introduced her to Quakerism, and she eventually converted. Shortly after, she died and her book was published (The principles of the most ancient and modern philosophy).
Anne Conway felt that she had suffered a lot in life with her illness and loss of her child. Instead of this being an excuse to be tragic, she used it as a way to see good in humans. Anne’s book specifically studies the metaphysics of sympathy. Due to her suffering, she looked at other mortals and discovered that everyone suffers and because of our suffering, we have the greatest capacity to be sympathetic. She believed in a hierarchy of “species.”
The highest level is God.
He leads to “Middle Nature” or Christ.
Which then leads to “Creatures” or the mortals on Earth.
Her idea was that God is perfect because he is fair, just, loving, wise, caring, joyous, and all things good. His essence flows into Christ who is perfect, but not as perfect. And then the essence flows to mortals who are good but not perfect. In this system, everyone and life is good because God is good. She did not believe in the material body because God is life itself, so the material body contradicts God’s nature. As well, she believes everyone can become more spirit-like because mortals are made of spirit and particles called monads while God is all spirit. Creatures are different from God because of the sheer number of Creatures. God can create infinite creatures but there is one God. To Anne, God was unchangeable.
Middle Nature, or Christ, is God’s communication medium. Through the second level, God delivers messages of being good, just, and loving.
Anne believed that creatures can become a more spiritual substance, and that all things are capable of increased goodness. She believed that suffering was a long journey on the way to spiritual recovery. She did not believe in Hell because God sending others to an eternity of punishment is unjust and contradicts his nature. The biggest theme is that Anne believed pain and suffering led to greater beings.
Anne wrote her book to appeal to all religions so that everyone could get a glimpse on what humanity is all about. However, these were her ideas and in her book she did criticise other philosopher’s ideas like Descartes, Hobbes and Spinoza. Anne was radical with her way of thinking and looked down on those who believed in material substance.
A quote I find that coheres with Anne’s theory is:
“We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.”
– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Anne’s idea of life is an interestingly optimistic one and how it affects our mindset is very contradictory. First, her nature to believe in good is admirable, but in this society it is very unrealistic. Second, the fact the religion plays such a heavy role in this idea often makes it unappealing to others. Her ideas may be radical but her principles can hold true in some way to many people. For example, God is an all round perfect being to those who believe. He is good,divine, and has the power to create Creatures. However, many people may disagree with things like mortals being made of a spirit like substance. One thing for sure though, is that in her hierarchy system, all beings are connected and something that many people are believing now is that everyone and everything is connected. The flap of a butterflies wings on the other side of the world affects me, at this moment, while I write this blog post. Finally, her idea that suffering leads to recovery is one that many people hold true. Humans like to believe that with the bad times, come good and that the good is well worth the bad.
Her ideas were hers and she stayed true to them though which is something to be taken out of this. As well as the fact that she was a prominent female philosopher at a time where women were not considered equal. Her determination and passion led to her success and allowed her to overcome many sufferings. Her idea may not be one I fully agree with, but there are aspects of it that I can agree to, sometimes. In all honesty, it depends on my mood whether or not I think humanity is inherently good.
On one hand, when reading Anne’s idea I like to believe that the suffering and pain is worth something and that everyone has sympathy towards others because of the pain. I want to believe in the good of people, in the good of God. On the other hand though, I find sympathy an effective tool but I believe empathy is far superior. I think her idea would jive with me better if empathy was the root of all good. Either way, it depends on my view on humanity at the moment as well. Sometimes I see the good and sometimes I see the bad. Even within myself, I find it hard to believe whether I’m all good or bad. Her theory is so radical that you have to be in a specific mindset all the time, but I’m not, most people are not. Life is always changing and progressing so it’s hard to pick one theory to truly believe in. I guess there’s not really something with my philosopher that I am confused about, I’m more confused with the idea of living by one philosophy. How do these great philosopher’s do it? What does it take?