An important thinker who contributed to eighteenth-century debates in epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics, Catharine Trotter Cockburn pursued the life of a dramatist and essayist, despite the prevailing social, cultural, and moral prescriptions of her day. Cockburn’s philosophical writings were polemical pieces in defence of such philosophers as John Locke and Samuel Clarke, in which she grappled with the moral and theological questions that concerned them and produced her own unique answers to those questions. Her works are interesting both for their approach to philosophical issues that continue to be debated today and for the way that they inform our understanding of the early-modern period.
“Catharine Trotter Cockburn was one of the earliest defenders of John Locke’s ‘Essay Concerning Human Understanding.’ In a time when Locke was seen as a dangerous innovator, Cockburn’s ‘Defence’ was remarkable not only for the fact that it was written by a young woman of 22, but also for its confidence, clarity, and precision. Patricia Sheridan’s elegant edition of Cockburn’s philosophical works will enable modern readers to appreciate Cockburn’s arguments in the context of the natural law tradition in early modern philosophy. Sheridan also provides a clear and intelligent appraisal of Cockburn as an independent thinker and not simply the unquestioning disciple of the male philosophers she defended.” — Jacqueline Broad, Monash University, Australia