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Princess Elisabeth was a 17th-century correspondent and friend of Descartes whose questions provoked the philosopher to think more seriously about ethics and the passions. This volume includes translations of all Elisabeth's extant letters to Descartes, as well as of other materials relevant to understanding her philosophical perspective and her life. Nye has supplemented all the translations with a running commentary on the historical, biographical and intellectual context of the letters. The letters were written during a tumultuous time in European history. A devastating Thirty Years War had ruined Elisabeth's family and devastated their principality, the Palatine. On his part, Descartes was embroiled in bitter controversies surrounding his work in relatively free-thinking Holland. In her commentary, Nye shows how personal experiences energized his and Elisabeth's different views of the relation between mind and body, the existence of God, and the nature of morality. What Nye evokes, along with the thinking of an extraordinary woman, is an alternative model for philosophy, a nonadversarial form of dialogue that does not pretend to objective theorizing.
Such a philosophy depends on mutual respect and trust, on concern for the other's sensibilities and views, and on friendship between women and men with a common concern for human life.
Andrea Nye is professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Her books include Philosophia: The Thought of Rosa Luxemburg, Simone Weil, and Hannah Arendt (1994) and Words of Power: A Feminist Reading of the History of Logic (1990).