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Mary Shepherd

A Guide

Deborah Boyle

Publication Date - 03 January 2023

ISBN: 9780190090333

344 pages
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches

In Stock


Scottish philosopher Lady Mary Shepherd (1777-1847) wrote two books that she conceived as one unified project: Essay Upon the Relation of Cause and Effect (1824) and Essays on the Perception of an External Universe (1827). While they were well received in her day, Shepherd's insightful philosophical writings have been neglected for some 150 years and are only now receiving the scholarly attention they deserve. Mary Shepherd: A Guide by Deborah Boyle, part of the Oxford Guides to Philosophy series, navigates students of philosophy or general readers through Shepherd's two significant works.

The first four chapters address topics raised in the 1824 Essay: Shepherd's arguments for two key causal principles, her objections to Hume and her alternative accounts of causation and causal inference; her theory of objects as bundles of qualities; her critique of Thomas Brown's defence of Humean causation; and her discussion of London surgeon William Lawrence's accounts of sentience and life, which Shepherd treats as a case study of how Humean theory can lead to errors in scientific reasoning. Chapter 5 covers topics central to both of Shepherd's books: what she means by "sensation," "idea," "will," "imagination," "understanding," "reasoning," and "latent reasoning." The remaining five chapters proceed systematically through Shepherd's 1827 book, where she seeks to prove, against Berkeleian idealism, that we can know that an external world of mind-independent matter exists. Boyle discusses Shepherd's proofs for such an external world, her responses to various sceptical challenges, and her specific objections to Berkeley. Each chapter ends with a list of works for further reading and a glossary of terms that explain Shepherd's sometimes idiosyncratic philosophical vocabulary, resulting in an essential guide to a philosopher who exerted considerable influence during her time.


  • Presents one of the first comprehensive surveys of Mary Shepherd's philosophical system by examining her books published in 1824 and 1827
  • Offers a guide to other relevant secondary literature for readers who might be interested in knowing more
  • For readers who find Mary Shepherd's writing style and highly condensed arguments difficult to follow, the author defines the philosopher's idiosyncratic philosophical terms

About the Author(s)

Deborah Boyle is Professor of Philosophy at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. She is the author of The Well-Ordered Universe: The Philosophy of Margaret Cavendish (Oxford University Press, 2018), among other titles. She has published articles and book chapters on Cavendish, Shepherd, Elizabeth Hamilton, Anne Conway, Mary Astell, Descartes, and Hume. She is also the editor of the Journal of the History of Philosophy.

Table of Contents

    Chapter 1 Shepherd's Life and Context
    Chapter 2 Causation
    Chapter 3 Induction, Objects, and the Uniformity of Nature
    Chapter 4 Causation, Sentience, and Life
    Chapter 5 Sensing and Reasoning
    Chapter 6 The External World
    Chapter 7 Skepticism and Idealism
    Chapter 8 Mind and Body
    Chapter 9 Religion
    Chapter 10 Vision
    Glossary of Terms

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