Lady Mary Shepherd

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Lady Mary Shepherd, née Primrose (31 December 1777 - 7 January 1847) was a Scottish philosopher.[1] Shepherd was the author of at least two philosophical books. According to Robert Blakey, who gave her an entry in his History of the Philosophy of the Mind, she exercised considerable influence over the Edinburgh philosophy of her day.[2]


Mary Primrose was the second daughter of Neil Primrose, 3rd Earl of Rosebery. She was born at Barnbougle Castle on the family estate near Dalmeny, Midlothian.[1] Privately educated, she married an English barrister, Henry John Shepherd, in 1808.[2]

Although Shepherd's philosophical books only appeared in the 1820s, a memoir by her daughter indicates that their composition in fact predated her marriage. In the first, an essay on the relation between cause and effect, she criticised the views of David Hume, Thomas Brown and the physiologist William Lawrence. In her second book of essays, on the perception of an external universe, she argued against both the idealism of George Berkeley and Thomas Reid's epistemological reliance on natural instinct.[2]

Shepherd's correspondence shows a continuing interest in philosophical questions. A private philosophical controversy with the amateur philosopher John Fearn over the relation between perception and physical extension was published in Parriana (1828). After learning of its publication, Shepherd wrote in defence of her position in Fraser's.[2]


  • (doubtfully attrib.) Essays on the Perception of an External Universe, 1819
  • An Essay upon the Relation of Cause and Effect, controverting the Doctrine of Mr. Hume, concerning the Nature of the Relation; with Observations upon the Opinions of Dr. Brown and Mr. Lawrence, connected with the same subject, 1824
  • Essays on the Perception of an External Universe and other Subjects Connected with the Doctrine of Causation, 1827
  • 'Observations of Lady Mary Shepherd on the "First Lines of the Human Mind"', in Parriana: or Notices of the Rev. Samuel Parr, L.L.
  • 'Lady Mary Shepherd's Metaphysics', Fraser's Magazine, Vol. 5, No. 30 (July 1832), pp. 697–708.


  1. ^ a b Perkins, Mary Anne. "Shepherd [née Primrose], Lady Mary (1777–1847), philosopher". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/58699.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b c d Margaret Atherton (2002). "Shepherd, Mary (née Primrose: 1777-1847)". In Mander, W. J.; Sell, Alan P. F. The dictionary of nineteenth-century British philosophers. Thoemmes. pp. 1009–11. ISBN 978-1-85506-955-8. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Atherton, Margaret, 'Lady Mary Shepherd's Case against George Berkeley', British Journal for the History of Philosophy, Vol. 4, No. 2 (September 1996), pp. 347–66
  • McRobert, Jennifer, 'Introduction', in The Philosophical Works of Lady Mary Shepherd, 2 vols, Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2000.