François Poullain de la Barre is one of the most radical and forward-thinking figures in the history of philosophy. He is also one of the most obscure.

Poullain was born in July 1647 and died on May 4th 1723. From 1673–1675, in a flurry of literary activity, he wrote, On the Equality of the Two Sexes, which argues that men and women’s intellectual abilities are equal and that the unequal treatment of women has disenfranchised them from contributing to society; On the Education of Ladies, which presents a group of intellectuals discussing the status of women; and On the Excellence…

Republicanism, Feminism and slavery.

The ancient historian Thucydides speculated that if Sparta was completely deserted, and all that remained was their buildings, ‘distant ages would be very unwilling to believe that the power of the Lacedaemonians was at all equal to their fame.’ Despite the scarcity of their art, architecture, literature and poetry, the Spartans have become an object of constant appreciation. While they did not leave much of a material culture, what remains is something arguably more impactful; namely a deeply patriotic and staunch ethos which has garnered praise from a wide variety of authors, politicians and philosophers.

Will history repeat itself in American government?

‘Declaration of Independence’ by John Trumbull via Photo12/UIG via Getty Images

Throughout history, ancient Rome has been widely discussed, praised, and emulated. No one has done so more enthusiastically than America’s founding fathers. They were enamored with Rome’s unique form of government, which had supposedly preserved liberty for hundreds of years. The Founders lavished praise upon Roman heroes who defended their government from tyranny in the Republic’s turbulent final days.

Rome’s history can be split into three broad thematic periods. First, there was its founding, when Roman kings reigned supreme. Following the removal of the tyrant king Tarquin from his lofty position, Rome became a Republic. During this Republican period, Rome…

Drawing by my good friend Niall, check his work out on twitter.

John of Salisbury’s unique political philosophy.

John of Salisbury would surely have been an eccentric figure by today’s standards. He could be described as a poet, moralist, political thinker, speculative philosopher, or indeed a combination of all of these things at once. He has been described as “the finest flower of the twelfth century Renaissance” and was one of the most learned men of the Middle Ages. His political philosophy is marked by commitment to the promotion of virtue. According to John, the best way to promote virtue is to promote liberty.

John was born into a non-noble family around 1120 AD in the town of…

Ownership inspires virtue, justice, and unity

Photo: PanosKarapanagiotis/iStock/Getty Images Plus

As an institution, private property has been critical in Western society and political thought. Modern capitalists defend private property merely on the grounds of efficiency. Socialists, on the other hand, tend to critique it.

Capitalists’ defense of private property rarely extends beyond a calculation of economic benefits. Many assert simply that there is no viable alternative to individual ownership. Private property, they contend, is just the best option within a set of subpar options. This argument, with its pessimistic tone, hardly inspires much love for the concept of private ownership.

But throughout history, numerous thinkers have robustly defended and justified…

And what it means for freedom of speech today

Henry II, c. 1860. Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty

John of Salisbury was born around 1120 A.D. to a non-noble family in Salisbury, England. After receiving an extensive education in France, John returned to England, where he was appointed secretary to the archbishop of Canterbury. In this prestigious role, he rubbed elbows with the most powerful people in the English government. Over the course of his life, John had a variety of occupations: he was a poet, a moralist, an educator, and a philosopher. He was easily one of the most well-educated men of his day.

John became a controversial figure when he criticized King Henry II’s methods of…

The answer is not very.

Despite this devious sclupture.

If you have ever studied Shakespeare, you might have heard your teacher use the word “Machiavellian” to describe amoral characters such as Iago from Othello or Edmund from King Lear. “Machiavellian” denotes a person or action that disregards morality and is wholly self-serving. The origin of the word derives from the famous Florentine politician and writer Niccoló Machiavelli.

Niccoló Machiavelli was born in Florence in 1469 to a middle-class family. His family were thought to have had ancestors who filled many prominent posts in the city during the 13th century. This had changed drastically by…

Adam Smith’s appreciation for the Stoic emperor’s writings is evident in his own work.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was the last of the five good emperors of Rome. He was born in 121 AD, reluctantly became emperor in 161 AD, and reigned for 19 years until his death in 180 AD. His reign was punctuated by numerous wars during which he repelled Rome’s enemies in long campaigns. When not at the frontiers of the empire, he spent his time administering the law, focusing his attention particularly on the guardianship of orphans, the manumission of slaves, and choosing city councillors.


Cicero’s account of natural law is essential to understanding the development Western political philosophy.

Cicero was a renowned Roman orator, statesman and writer. He was an enemy of one man rule and a self-described constitutionalist. During the turbulent twilight of the Republic he attempted tirelessly to establish a lasting peace in order to preserve his beloved republican government. Following the death of his daughter Tullia and his exile from political life, Cicero wrote voraciously to distract himself from despair. His reputation as an eloquent enemy of tyranny has been applauded by many influential people throughout history.

Admirers of Cicero in…

Paul Meany

Assistant Editor for Intellectual History at I write about obscure philosophers mainly.

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