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 and a Cartesian 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 the Republic of Geneva, where he obtained the citizenship (bourgeoisie) in 1716.[1]

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 "On the equality of the two sexes: a physical and moral discourse in which is seen the importance of undoing prejudice in oneself," the first of three feminist works. He argues that the inequality in the treatment that women experience does not have a natural basis, but proceeds from cultural prejudice. He recommends that women receive a true education and also says all careers should be open to them, including scientific careers.

In a second work, "On the education of women, to guide the mind in sciences and manners", Barre continues reflection on the education of women. Although the title of his third work may seem to suggest an opposing point of view, "Of the excellence of the men against the equality of the sexes," it is a reply to some of the standard arguments against gender equality, not a reversal of his own positions. Pierre Bayle has advanced the theory that Poullain may have refuted his own thesis because he felt threatened, but the arguments antifeminists advanced are doubtful of this refutation. Opinions about Poullain de la Barre's place in the history of feminism vary considerably from one author to another.

Simone de Beauvoir includes a quotation from Poullain de la Barre 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."

See also[edit]


  • 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.
  • Francois Poulain de la Barre, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2014.


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 Poulain de la Barre and the Invention of Modern Equality, Cambridge (Mass.), Harvard University Press, 2004 ISBN 978-0-674-01185-4.


External links[edit]