François Poullain de la Barre

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François Poullain de la Barre (French: [də la baʁ]; born 1647 in Paris, France, died 1725 in Geneva, Republic of Geneva), was a writer, Cartesian and feminist philosopher.


Initially studying theology, Poullain de la Barre adopted the philosophy of Descartes. He became a priest in the Champagne area before converting to Protestantism. After the Edict of Fontainebleau revoked the Edict of Nantes, he was exiled in Geneva.

He applied Cartesian principles to the question of women and wrote many texts of social philosophy which denounced injustice against woman and by the inequality of the female condition. Opposing the discrimination they experienced and as one of the champions of social equality between women and men, he is a precursor of the feminists.

In 1673, he published anonymously, "equality of the two sexes, speech physical and moral where it is seen the importance to demolish itself prejudge" showing that the inequality and the treatment that women undergo does not have a natural base, but proceeds from cultural prejudice. He recommends that women receive a true education and also says all the careers should be open to them, including scientific careers.

In another work, again anonymous, "Of the education of the ladies for the control of the spirit in sciences and manners", Poullain de la Barre continues reflection on the education of the women, but, a few years later, he defends a completely opposite point of view, "Of the excellence of the men against the equality of the sexes" and refutes in a systematic way his own arguments. Pierre Bayle has advanced the theory that Poullain would have refuted his own thesis because he felt threatened, but the arguments antifeminists advanced are doubtful of this refutation. Also, the place of Poullain de la Barre in the history of feminism varies considerably from one author to another.

Simone de Beauvoir, quoting Poullain de la Barre, wrote in an epigraph to The Second Sex in 1949: "All that has been written about women by men should be suspect, for the men are at once judge and party to the lawsuit".


  • De l’Égalité des deux sexes, discours physique et moral où l’on voit l’importance de se défaire des préjugés, Paris, Chez Jean du Puis, 1673 ; Fayard, 1984.
  • De l’Éducation des dames pour la conduite de l’esprit dans les sciences et dans les mœurs, entretiens, Paris, Chez Jean du Puis, 1674 ; Université de Toulouse Le Mirail, Toulouse, 1980, 1985.
  • De l’Excellence des hommes contre l’égalité des sexes, Paris, J. Du Puis, 1675.
  • La Doctrine des protestans sur la liberté de lire l’Ecriture sainte, le service divin en langue entenduë, l’invocation des saints, le sacrement de l’Eucharistie, Genève, 1720.
  • (in English) Three Cartesian Feminist Treaties, Chicago, University of Chicago press, 2002.


Studies, critical editions and biographies[edit]

  • Madeleine Alcover, Poullain de la Barre : une aventure philosophique, Paris ; Seattle, Papers on French seventeenth century literature, 1981.
  • Elsa Dorlin, L’Évidence de l’égalité des sexes. Une philosophie oubliée du XVIIe, Paris L’Harmattan, 2001 ISBN 978-2-7475-0016-6.
  • Christine Fauré, Poullain de la Barre, sociologue et libre penseur, Corpus n° 1, 1985 pp. 43–51.
  • Geneviève Fraisse, Poullain de la Barre, ou le procès des préjugés, Corpus n° 1, 1985 pp. 27–41.
  • Marie-Frédérique Pellegrin, ed. "François Poullain de la Barre, De l'égalité des deux sexes; De l'éducation des dames; De l'excellence des hommes", Paris Vrin, 2011.
  • (in English) Siep Stuurman, Social Cartesianism : François Poullain de la Barre and the origins of the enlightenment, Journal of the history of ideas, 1997, vol. 58, no4, pp. 617–640.
  • (in English) Siep Stuurman, François Poullain de la Barre and the Invention of Modern Equality, Cambridge (Mass.), Harvard University Press, 2004 ISBN 978-0-674-01185-4.

External links[edit]