Anne Conway, Viscountess Conway

Anne Conway, Viscountess Conway

Anne (nee: Finch) Conway, Viscountess Conway (14 December 1631February 18, 1679) was an English philosopher whose work, in the tradition of the Cambridge Platonists, was an influence on Leibniz.


She was born to Frances (daughter of Sir Edmund Bell of Beaupre Hall in Norfolk) and Sir Heneage Finch (who had held the posts of the Recorder of London and Speaker of the House of Commons under Charles I). Her father died the week before her birth. Her early education was by tutors and included Latin, to which she later added Greek and Hebrew. Her stepbrother, John Finch, was educated at Cambridge, and Anne Finch (as she then was) came into contact with one of his tutors, the Platonist Henry More. This led to a correspondence between them on the subject of Descartes' philosophy, in the course of which Anne grew from More's informal pupil to his intellectual equal. More said of her that he had "scarce ever met with any Person, Man or Woman, of better Natural parts than Lady Conway" (quoted in Richard Ward's "The Life of Henry More" (1710) p.193).

In 1651 she married Edward Conway, later 1st Earl of Conway, and in the following year More dedicated his book "Antidote against Atheism" to her. Her husband was also interested in philosophy and had himself been tutored by More, but she went far beyond him in both the depth of her thought and the variety of her interests. She became interested in the Lurianic Kabbalah, and then in Quakerism, to which she converted in 1677. In England at that time the Quakers were generally disliked and feared, and suffered persecution and even imprisonment. Conway's decision to convert, to make her house a centre for Quaker activity, and to proselytise actively was thus particularly bold and courageous.

Her life from the age of twelve (when she suffered a period of fever) was marked by the recurrence of severe migraines. These meant that she was often incapacitated by pain, and she spent much time under medical supervision and trying various cures (at one point even having her "jugular arteries" opened). None of the treatments had any effect, and she died in 1679 at the age of forty-seven.



* Lois Frankel, "Anne Finch, Viscountess Conway," Mary Ellen Waithe, ed., "A History of Women Philosophers", Vol. 3, Kluwer, 1991, pp. 41-58.
* Alan Gabbey "Anne Conway et Henry More: lettres sur Descartes" ("Archives de Philosophie" 40, pp 379-404)
* Peter J. King "One Hundred Philosophers" (New York: Barron's, 2004) ISBN 0-7641-2791-8
* Carolyn Merchant "The Vitalism of Anne Conway: its Impact on Leibniz's Concept of the Monad" ("Journal of the History of Philosophy" 17 (1979) pp 255-69)

External links

* [ Peter King's page]
* [ William Uzgalis' page]

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