Monday 22 August 2022

Shepherd vol 2: Chapter 4: The Problem of Inconsistent References to the Title of the 1819 Treatise. Was James Milne the Author of Shepherd's 1819 treatise?

Chapter 4: The Problem of Inconsistent References to the Title of the 1819 Treatise. Was James Milne the Author of Shepherd's 1819 treatise? 

To support her argument that the architect James Milne is the true author of the 1819 treatise instead of Lady Mary Shepherd, Boyle cites a couple of 19th century magazines that listed new publications1. These sources seem to indicate that, by 1821, James Milne was thought to be the author of a book with a similar title to the 1819 treatise. Boyle2 seems to me to present this as though it constitutes irrefutable evidence of her hypothesis that Shepherd is not the author of the 1819 treatise, partly because the 1821 books have a similar title and because a different author of these 1821 books have been listed. 

However, on my view, this does not constitute solid enough evidence and thus is open to scholarly dispute. 

The architect and engineer James Milne, as far as I can see, has never been referred to as a philosopher. Surely he would have been described as a philosopher in addition to being an architect and engineer if such magazines intended to declare him as the author of a philosophical treatise. In the 18th and 19th century, philosophy encompassed much of pure science, meaning many scientific discoveries were considered part of what was then called natural philosophy. Unlike the 20th century and beyond, where philosophy became more demarcated, science became an even more separate field and scientific philosophy narrowed down to the philosophical analysis of scientific thought and became considered a more self-contained branch of philosophy, namely, the Philosophy of Science. Whereas in the Long Early Modern period, thinkers wore many hats and didn't worry about narrowing themselves down to specialising in a specific field or research area. Having said that, of course there are exceptions today and I think there can be a value to some philosophers being quite broad in their research interests, providing they have a broad enough educational background. Point being, 19th century biographers and writers would be accustomed to labelling a thinker as belonging to a variety of disciplines, so would be happy to call James Milne both an architect and engineer as well as a philosopher or natural philosopher, without any modern day concerns about whether he is a specialist in either STEM or Philosophy. Thus, it is possible that they did not entirely mean to suggest that he was clearly the author of a philosophical treatise. 

James Milne is known to have published two books, one in 1816, titled: 'An Inquiry Into the Theory and Principles of Bridges and Piers, with Theoretical, Practical, and Critical Observations', and another, titled: 'The Elements of Architecture' although only one volume of this was published in 1812. The style of these titles is much shorter and to the point, compared to the 1819 treatise in question, titled 'Enquiry Respecting the Relation of Cause and Effect: in which the Theories of Professors Brown, and Mr. Hume, are Examined; with a Statement of Such Observations as are Calculated to Shew the Inconsistency of these Theories; and from which a New Theory is Deduced, More Consonant to Facts and Experience. Also a New Theory of the Earth, Deduced from Geological Observations'. Whereas this 1819 title does resemble the other book titles authored by Shepherd. Indeed, the beginning of it "Enquiry Respecting the Relation of Cause and Effect'' is identical to Shepherd's subject matter of her 1824 treatise on cause and effect. 

So it seems slightly arbitrary to dismiss this topic match up while constructing an entire argument3 around a lack of a very specific topic overlap between the 1819 treatise and Shepherd's other treatises or possible early manuscript, namely, an absence of geological theories and not expounding on geology, or power and force in her 1824 and 1827 treaties. 

In addition, I argue that there are a further four main considerations.

One, there is always the possibility that they made a mistake or that they exploited the anonymous status of the 1819 treatise and used this vagueness to write a woman out of history. Boyle4 throws out the credibility of the 1882 Dictionary of the Anonymous and Pseudonymous Literature of Great Britain by Halkett and Laing. This dictionary states, on page 774 of Volume 1 (A-E)5, that Shepherd is the author of the 1819 treatise, and a few pages later in the dictionary6, on page 822, it correctly states that she is the author behind the anonymously published 1824 treatise. In addition, both entries have an asterisk, which means these entries have been particularly thoroughly checked for accuracy. The full meaning of the asterisk is explained at the beginning of the dictionary, on page 2:

"The asterisk denotes that a copy of the work has been critically examined by Mr Halkett or Mr Laing, and that it is strictly anonymous, — i.e. the author's real name does not appear on the title page, or anywhere throughout the work."7

Moreover, Halkett and Laing were extremely thorough in their research and what they entered into the dictionary was backed up by several public libraries and biographers. So presumably it was considered accurate, accepted knowledge by libraries and biographers in the 19th century that Shepherd was the author of the 1819 treatise. We know this by reading page 3 of their introduction when they wish to give:

"... special thanks to the heads of the public libraries and numerous biographers for the valuable assistance which they so readily granted to the compliers and since their death."8

Surely this constitutes strong possible evidence against Boyle's9 hypothesis that Shepherd is not the author? The dictionary 10 is published in the same century as Shepherd lived and published her work, and is published only  around 63 years after the publication of the 1819 treatise, meaning that it was still recent enough to be in living memory. Yet Boyle's argument11 for dismissing this dictionary relies on just one, non-philosophical, non-historical secondary literature source (by Leah Orr, who wrote it while a Visiting Assistant Professor of English). Yet Orr12 is not even directly refuting the accuracy of this dictionary for Shepherd's era. I consider Orr's article13 insufficient evidence to support Boyle's bold claim13, especially since the focus of that article14 is on possible errors the dictionary made concerning significantly earlier periods of time, centuries before Shepherd was born. Shepherd was much more recent in history when this dictionary15 was published, making it far less prone to mistakes. And Orr's16 article has not established that there are inaccuracies in the book for Shepherd's era, so I maintain that Boyle's17 use of it is rather a stretch of the imagination and somewhat irrelevant evidence.

Two, the book titles that one assumes to be all referring to this book in question do not match up perfectly in 19th century book publication listings. In the 1800's, all manner of inconsistencies were overlooked when listing publications, from spellings, to punctuation and even the book title itself, as will be seen shortly in my third argument in this chapter. 

Therefore, I think there is room for doubt whether some 19th century publication listings and announcements are reliable. Hence, I suggest that period publication listings and announcements are not the best source to play such a vital role in Boyle's argument18 against Shepherd's authorship, especially given that she needs to rely on the claim that it is definitely the identical book even though many details are different, not just the author's name but also the date and publisher, on the theory that it is a second publication of it.

It is also not out of the question that Shepherd could have suffered from copycat publications that imitated her book title and contents after she had already published her original book anonymously. After all, as I mention in chapter 1 and 3 in this volume, Shepherd, and other women in that period of time, suffered from harassment through publishing means, such as publishing their work without their knowledge and consent. Shepherd also received a published contra from a man who was not even a philosopher yet thought he could nevertheless attack her work. So it is not inconceivable that Shepherd may have suffered from the copycat tactic which is still prevalent today. This 1819 book could be especially prone to sexist, misogynistic harassment because the title states that it is demonstrating inconsistencies within other theories (expounded by men) and putting forward new and presumably better theories (as a woman). This is a common style of contra and original approach throughout Shepherd's works so there is nothing in the wording of the title to suggest it is not in keeping with her other works.

Three, it seems to me that Boyle's claim19 rests on which sources one consults about 19th century publication listings. I suggest that, if one consults other well respected sources, one finds that it is perhaps not as straightforward and clear cut as Boyle makes it seem. I suggest there may be strong evidence that runs contrary to Boyle's argument, if one consults a different listing of new publications, also released at the time in the 19th century, and compare it with her findings. 

Here, I shall examine two 19th century publication listings that appeared very shortly after the publication of the disputed 1819 treatise and the 1821 treatise attributed to Milne that could be the same text to which Boyle refers. 

One source is 'The Edinburgh Review or Critical Journal'20 which included the identical 1819 book title in question at the earliest opportunity the following year (Jan-May 1820 edition) under their new publications listings. Earlier in the same edition, they include a learned article on geology, so they are clearly familiar with the subject matter, geologists and the latest findings in this field, so are a very relevant source. They do not list Milne as the author, but omit any reference to an author. So clearly it did not consider Milne to be the author roughly a year after the 1819 publication and not long before the 1821 book was released. So was the true author discovered as such within a couple of years or did the 1821 publication merely confuse the issue? 

The other source is 'The Investigator; or Quarterly Magazine' (July-October 1821 edition)21 which lists the 1821 Milne book Boyle is presumably referring to in her article. However, there is no mention of it being a second edition and, worse still, it does not have the identical book title so it could potentially be referring to a different book. It names James Milne as the author, but refers to him as simply an architect and lists the book as: 'An Inquiry respecting the Relation of Cause and Effect, in which the Theories of Dr. T. Brown and Mr. Hume, are examined. Also, a new Theory of the Earth.' This book title is far more truncated and less eloquently written than the 1819 treatise and Shepherd's usual style of writing as a Lady belonging to a higher, more educated class in the 19th century. Obvious discrepancies include a different, lower status title for Brown (Dr. as opposed to Professor) despite being published two years later; the omission of stating that it demonstrates inconsistencies; not claiming that it contains new theories. Hence, I do not see any citing of this 1821 book attributed to Milne as strong grounds to argue that it is the identical book with the same author as the 1819 treatise. 

Furthermore, the contemporary publication 'Early Responses to Hume's Life and Reputation', edited and introduced by James Fieser whose republishing extends to as recently as 2021, acknowledges Shepherd as the author of the 1819 treatise printed by Ballantyne, treats it as her thoughts on Hume's causation and lists her 1819 treatise as being "revised and expanded" into her 1824 treatise 'An Essay upon the Relation of Cause and Effect'22. Therefore, I see no reason not to keep an open mind and accept Fieser's23 explanation as highly plausible and assent to the idea that the 1819 was authored by Shepherd and formed the basis of a modified, reissued version of it, which became the 1824 treatise (which was also published anonymously). 

I argue that it is still preferable to include the 1819 treatise in collections of Shepherd's works, with a proviso that her authorship of it is subject to academic debate and dispute, so that readers can access its content and make up their own mind, rather than essentially censor it. 

Likewise, I also maintain that book descriptions of the 1819 treatise, including both library listings and those for sale, should either state that it was published anonymously but is highly likely to be Shepherd's work or they should describe it as anonymously written together with an accompanying list of possible authors. There is no conclusive, solid evidence that positively proves that someone else wrote the 1819 treatise and who they were, so I argue that there is no good reason for dismissing Shepherd's likely authorial rights to the text, which is no weaker a claim than anyone else's. The book listing evidence Boyle24 provides for James Milne, I suggest, is even patchier and unreliable than any evidence for Shepherd's authorship, especially since such sources for Milne can contain the wrong date, possibly the wrong publishing house name and the wrong title, yet a very common book title so not rare enough to count as significant proof in favour of Milne, unlike the anonymous author dictionary entry for Shepherd. A dictionary of Scottish Architects25 does not refer to James Milne being a philosopher, seems unaware he published anything in 1819 and that he ever published anonymously. They26 do not state that his 1821 book was a republication and merely call it Theory of the Earth, without the distinctive, accompanying words: new theory, making this title the same as the book by the so-called father of geology James Hutton, and many other men who wrote on this field of science. Yet Boyle27 does not raise or address this issue, nor ask the question: Why are the titles varied and not matching up entirely between Milne and Shepherd? Hence, I maintain that book sellers and libraries should not be describing the 1819 treatise as authored by James Milne because the issue is far too complex to state his authorship as a true fact. 

Therefore, I refute the value of a library basing what is meant to be an objective, factual description of an antique library book on only one scholarly interpretation at the expense of all others and despite the ongoing academic debate. I object to the Edinburgh University Library Catalogue referencing James Milne as the "Author/Creator" despite the weak evidence for it and while knowing so little about him they cannot even cite his year of death ("c. 1878-185-?")28. Worse still, their General Note now reads as though it's certain, true knowledge and a closed matter that Shepherd is no longer considered the author of the 1819 treatise when it only represents one opinion on the matter: 

"Attributed in manuscript on title page of Edinburgh copy to James Mill. Attributed in other sources to James Milne and formerly attributed to Lady Mary Shepherd."29

Boyle30 discusses the Edinburgh University Library catalogue briefly, but I do not see that this passage in her article does her argument any justice. I find it interesting that Boyle31 is so quick to dismiss JS Mill's father, James Mill as a possible author, despite him being a Scottish Philosopher. She dismisses similar type of evidence in favour of Mill's authorship while accepting vague evidence for Milne's authorship. When it comes to James Mill, she highlights that the 1819 date is merely diffidently ascribed32, even though many sources for Milne do not even log a publication for him at all in 1819. She33 also appears unbothered that the two main Milne authorship sources on which she depends spell the Enquiry differently, with an I instead of an E, even though this can vitally change the linguistic meaning of the title and the aim of the book. So I worry that there is an inconsistent prioritisation and use of sources as evidence to support her argument for Milne's authorship. This, for me, undermines the strength of her argument. 

Nevertheless, I do agree with Boyle34 that James Mill, the father of J.S. Mill, is highly unlikely to be the author of the anonymous 1819 treatise. I believe that Shepherd knew James Mill and that he attended her salons, but it obviously does not follow that this means he wrote a treatise that may have been authored by her. And why would he suddenly publish this one book anonymously? Most men did not suffer the same discrimination and harassment from their publishers or readers so there was less reason to hide their identity. Both James Mill and J.S. Mill, his son, were viewed as atheists and while J.S. Mill was merely openly not religious, James Mill wrote against religion and the church and was much more atheistic, which was easier for him because he was not a politician. However, neither of them, as far as I am aware, felt the need to publish anonymously, even when their views were religiously, historically or politically highly controversial. James Mill was also too busy writing and publishing major works in history and economics around and between the 1819 and 1821 publications and metaphysics, epistemology and geology were not his research interests, nor did he publish anything on these fields. 

Four, I also have publishing, biographical and historical concerns about how plausible it is that James Milne could have written the 1819 treatise. Not only does it seem unlikely an engineer would randomly write a book on metaphysics and Hume but, from the little we do know about his life, it seems clear that Milne was working hard on complex construction projects in 1819 and around this period of time, with no mention that he was authoring or publishing anything simultaneously. However, records do show that he was submitting what's termed feuing plans, for projects such as elevating houses and shops35. No such work experience or architectural  knowledge can be seen in the topics, arguments or style of language in this 1819 treatise. Milne's writing style in all his other works are very stark and technical, in keeping with his profession, unlike this 1819 treatise whose style is in keeping with Lady Mary Shepherd's class, academic background and philosophical argumentation. 

There were also many problems within the publishing houses in question around 1819-1821, namely Constable & Co and Ballantyne &Co. Publishing rights and copyright became fraught around this time, because the latter publishing house was a break-away venture from the former after misunderstandings and unnecessary friction between the two leaders of Constable and Co, Archibald Constable and the famous writer, Sir Walter Scott. But this venture was unsuccessful within a few years and Archibald Constable and Walter Scott were soon back working together again: Ballantyne & Co publishing merged to some extent with Constable & Co, with Walter Scott selling his copyright to Constable and already transferring book stocks to Constable in 1813, six years before the 1819 treatise. However, Ballantyne Printing Press did not cease until the banking crisis of 1825, so it's not immediately clear why it would not have been named as the publisher of a second edition in 1821. 

The situation and transfer of powers to Constable angered the Scottish publisher and manager of Ballantyne &Co, John Ballantyne, who may have consequently generated a negative reputation of Constable. Hence, it is not inconceivable that this could have impacted on the anonymous author of the 1819 treatise, and whether the book was ever misleadingly listed, if it was somehow used or caught up with the feuds between Scott, Constable and Ballantyne. So it is not easy to ascertain how these publishing houses managed their stock, copyright and feuds, which could be making the task of tracking the 1819 treatise and its true author much harder. Especially since Ballantyne died in 1821, making it easier to either shift stock or make erroneous claims about Ballantyne publications, which is the very year the supposed Milne 1821 treatise is listed as being published, according to certain sources. Before Archibald Constable died in 1827, he was a powerful publisher and his publishing house continues today, under the name Constable and Robinson. He was in the habit of buying copyright from authors and even major works (such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica). In addition, he owned the Scots Magazine and issued the Edinburgh Review from the inception of the 19th century. Thus, he had the power to influence authorship rights and book listings in such 19th century magazine and journal sources, making it harder to assess the relevance of any listing inconsistencies and whether they are due to lax referencing standards of the era or whether there were any motives behind it. 


1Boyle, D., 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd' Journal of Modern Philosophy, 2(1): 5 pp1-4 [in open access download, last downloaded 4th April 2022] (June) 2020.

Available at: 





5Halkett, Samuel; Laing, John; Wheatley, Henry Benjamin; Laing, Catherine. 'A Dictionary of the Anonymous and Pseudonymous Literature of Great Britain'. Vol. 1. Edinburgh: William Paterson. 1882-1888; no visible notice of copyright; stated date is 1882.

Digitalized by Internet Archive in 2007

Available at (link opens at page 774): 


Available at (link opens at page 822): 


Available at: (link opens at page 2-3): 


9Boyle, 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd'

10Halkett, Samuel; Laing, John; Wheatley, Henry Benjamin; Laing, Catherine. 'A Dictionary of the Anonymous and Pseudonymous Literature of Great Britain'. Vol. 1.

11Boyle, 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd'

12Orr, Leah. 'The History, Uses, and Dangers of Halkett and Laing.' The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol. 107, no. 2, 2013, pp. 193–240. JSTOR, Accessed 20 Aug. 2022.

13Boyle, 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd'

14Orr, Leah. 'The History, Uses, and Dangers of Halkett and Laing'

15Halkett, Samuel; Laing, John; Wheatley, Henry Benjamin; Laing, Catherine. 'A Dictionary of the Anonymous and Pseudonymous Literature of Great Britain'. Vol. 1.

16Orr, Leah. 'The History, Uses, and Dangers of Halkett and Laing'

17Boyle, 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd'



20'Quarterly List of New Publications' in The Edinburgh Review or Critical Journal: For Jan 1820 - May 1820, Quarterly Publication, Vol 33. Iss. 65 Published by Wells and Lilly, January 1820 p253

Available at (link opens at page 253): 

21The Investigator; or Quarterly Magazine, vol 3, July and October 1821 edited by The Rev. W. B. Collyer, The Rev. Thomas Raffles (of Liverpool), James Baldwin Brown. Published in London, printed by James Meyer for Thomas and George Underwood, 32 Fleet Street. 1821 

22Fieser, James (ed), Series Bibliography in 'Early Responses to Hume's Life and Reputation: Part 2', Google Book 2021 (Creative Commons) p419, this digital version 1.0 document part of the 10-volume series 'Early Responses to Hume' first published by Thoemmes Press 1999-2003; revised edition 2005. © James Fieser 2003; 2005; 2021

Available at (link opens at p419): 


24Boyle, 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd'

25DSA Architect Biography Report in Dictionary of Scottish Architects, © 2016, available at (last accessed August 22, 2022, 8:04 am): 


27Boyle, 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd'

28Edinburgh University Library online catalogue, Centre for Research Collections, Main Library, Special Collections

Available at:,contains,James%20milne%20Theory%20of%20the%20earth&offset=0&virtualBrowse=true 


30Boyle, 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd'





35DSA Architect Biography Report in Dictionary of Scottish Architects

Wednesday 6 April 2022

Shepherd vol 2: Chapter 3: Who Authored the 1819 Treatise? Women Geologists and Authorship

Chapter 3: Who Authored the 1819 Treatise?

Women Geologists and Authorship

Boyle rather sweepingly states in the body of her article that Shepherd does not refer to Priestley, simply stating that "neither of the books engage at all with Priestley"1. But then later, Boyle seems to contradict herself in the proviso in her footnotes2 in which she concedes that Shepherd did indeed refer to Priestley once in (footnote p52) her 1827 treatise 'Essays on the Perception of an External Universe and Other Subjects Connected with the Doctrine of Causation.' The footnote Boyle is presumably referring to reads:

"It may be perceived that the notion of externality is not an hypothesis merely as Priestley supposes, but is a conclusion the result of reasoning."3

However, on reading an original publication of Shepherd's 18274 treatise, I suggest that Boyle's claim is, unfortunately, factually incorrect and presumably Boyle was not made aware of this during the few months long peer review process. Shepherd actually refers to Priestley twice in two separate footnotes in her 1827 treatise, the second time being on page 118: 

"I find this idea is coincident with one of Priestley's, but I was not aware of his treatise until after the writing of this."5

So, if one were to argue that Shepherd is not the author of the 1819 treatise, then who is? Boyle hypothesizes that the "Scottish architect and engineer, James Milne"6 wrote the 1819 treatise. 

How does Boyle argue for this and is it plausible?  

One piece of evidence cited by Boyle is that she believes the anonymous 1819 treatise was republished in 1821 with a different publisher and she claims that it was advertised in magazines that year as being the work of an architect named James Milne7

However, I am struggling to find this the best possible explanation available to us. In this chapter, I shall discuss the position of women in geology in Shepherd's era and in the next chapter, I shall return to the subject of James Milne as a possible author and why I find this implausible. 

Firstly, I am unsure why Boyle maintains that Shepherd does not write about force and power. In Shepherd's 1824 and 1827 treatises8, there are several references to force and there are countless references to power (in the relevant, metaphysical and epistemological sense). 

Secondly, to my mind, Boyle runs the risk of undermining her own argument. She admits there is written evidence in Shepherd's letters which shows that she was passionate about geology yet Boyle9 goes on to reject the option that Shepherd may have written about geology anonymously in the 1819 treatise and then been dissuaded from publishing it under her own name later on. 

However, I think that the possibility that Shepherd wrote about geology (and therefore it is not out of the question that she may have authored the geological content in the 1819 treatise) is an option that needs to be left open. As we can see in letters, academic societies were clearly biased against women in geology, even going so far as to ban them from attending lectures on it, yet Shepherd was openly enthusiastic about women, including herself, becoming involved in the subject. Therefore, it is plausible that someone may have sidelined Shepherd's geology as part of the sexist censorship of women in this field of research. 

In Shepherd's era of the 18th and 19th century, geology was a recent, exciting field, ever since the man, considered the father of geology, James Hutton (1726-1797), published his seminal work on it in 1788, titled 'Theory of the Earth'. I wonder whether this is why the phrase 'theory of the earth' was incorporated into many later book titles, such as the 1819 treatise. Perhaps it was a way of indicating that the author was writing a response to Hutton. Indeed, James Milne is said to have authored a book whose title is commonly referred to as simply an 1821 publication called "Theory of the Earth". On Boyle's view10, if I understand her correctly, this is one and the same book as the 1819 anonymous treatise. However, I hesitate to argue for an exact match between the two, based on a similarity of title. They could just be two distinct works that both respond to Hutton's geological treatise by a similar name. Moreover, even Hutton's title somewhat changed as his 'Theory of the Earth' was then later republished in two further formats, together with slightly adapted titles. His theories were not generally accepted until the beginning of the 19th century when the mathematician and scientist John Playfair (1748-1819) elucidated Hutton's geology in more plain, straight-talking English. Although this popularized Hutton's theories on geology, the downside was that Playfair omitted to clarify Hutton's theory concerning evolution, which included the concept of adaptability. In short, Hutton argued that those who are most adaptable or are best adapted to their environment have the greatest chance of survival. It is helpful to bear in mind Hutton's adaptability theory because it was an important precursor and influence on the later, more famous theories by Lyell and Darwin. Whewell, who knew Shepherd and taught one of her treatises at Cambridge, also knew Lyell and Darwin. 

The relevance of this for Shepherd is that these men and their ideas formed part of her intellectual circles and there were academic exchanges between them all. So Shepherd was more than just familiar with Lyell's book and Shepherd did not merely attend some lectures by him when the opportunity for women arose, as Boyle seems to suggest in this article11. Lyell, amongst others, had academic exchanges with Shepherd, both on a scientific and philosophical level. Boyle must be aware of this since she wrote the entry on Shepherd for the Institute for the Study of Scottish Philosophy, where she points out:

"Shepherd's daughter reports that Shepherd was involved with "both the scientific and the literary sides of the learned world" and that her social circle included Sir Charles Lyell, Charles Babbage, Mary Somerville, William Whewell, Sydney Smith, Thomas Malthus, and David Ricardo (Brandreth 1886: 41-42)."12

Thus, Shepherd would be very familiar with these geological theories (and possibly these versions of the theory of adaptability and evolution) so could plausibly engage with them and write up her responses and ideas on geology and science. Furthermore, the topic of cause and effect, the very field of metaphysics which grounds such theories (including the Uniformitarian Principle in geology, as expounded by Hutton) and science in general, is precisely the focus of Shepherd's uncontroversially authored treatises. Hence, it is a smaller step than one might imagine to go from writing about cause and effect to scientific theory and geology. 

Uniformitarianism, a term first used by Whewell, argues for the uniformity of the laws of nature and natural, gradual processes, which remain the same across the centuries. It is also known as the Uniformitarian Principle and the Doctrine of Uniformity. It contrasts with Catastrophism, which claims that natural processes are abrupt and dramatic changes causing catastrophes and radical changes to the earth and its climate. Unlike Uniformitarianism, which believes the present helps us understand past events, for Catastrophists, what occurs on earth now need not have a precedent in the past. Nevertheless, Catastrophists sometimes point to past Biblical events, such as The Flood in Genesis, as lending support for their theory. Whereas Uniformitarians, such as James Hutton, prioritised scientific fields such as natural history over Christianity and scriptural interpretation. Today, scientists tend to use a mixture of the two in their scientific thought. I suggest this might be a mistake because, I think, Catastrophism undermines the ability to underpin scientific hypothesizing and research with rational, logical reasoning and explanation. 

Given that Shepherd argued for the uniformity of nature because, as LoLordo13 maintains, it follows from Shepherd's principles, I suggest that she would be a Uniformitarianist, even before Whewell coined the term. LoLordo14 argues that Shepherd believes that "nature is uniform" and that she thinks "we can have knowledge of the uniformity of nature". I think this is quite conclusive that Shepherd is in line with Uniformitarianism. Shepherd, I think, has a great deal of similarity with Spinoza in this respect: they both convincingly argue for a solid, logical foundation to understanding nature and its uniform laws in a way that both expands our knowledge as well as supporting scientific thinking and predictions. However, my present concern here is whether Shepherd's opposition to a Catastrophic outlook could have generated a religious, Christian motivation for sidelining and dismissing her geology. 

Moreover, I suggest that there are other scientific topics in addition to geology that may have interested Shepherd and about which she might have conversed with Whewell and Lyell. One such topic could be adaptability and evolution, given that there were strong arguments and contras on this topic within these academic milieus. For me, this would create interesting parallels between Spinoza and Shepherd in my scholarly research. Both are similar types of philosophers in that, although they have a religious belief, they keep to a strong division between pure philosophy and philosophy of religion or theology; they reduce the classic conflicts between religion and science; they participate in scientific thought (which can introduce materialistic claims and arguments) without attempting to set up a battle with religion, be it Christianity or Judaism. DeRose15 interprets Shepherd as accepting, what he calls, pre-philosophical materialism while seeing no need to replace this with philosophical materialism. 

This is of particular interest and relevance when analysing Boyle's16 claim that the 1819 treatise could not possibly be authored by Shepherd since Boyle believes that Shepherd is not a materialist yet there are materialist claims in the 1819 treatise. Boyle's17 argument would only stand here as long as there was no conflation between pre-philosophical materialism and philosophical materialism. Otherwise, one could assume that any (pre-philosophical) materialism in the 1819 treatise contradicts Shepherd's general (philosophical) non-materialism. However, Shepherd could remain consistent by accepting one type of materialism (pre-philosophical type of materialism) while not advocating another (philosophical type of materialism). In this way, Shepherd would be able to retain the benefits of materialism for scientific examination of the external world while not running into philosophical problems around the existence of non-material things, such as God. Here again she is similar to Spinoza. They both have to believe in some form of materialism otherwise they would render scientific enquiry redundant, which they are unwilling to do. This is unsurprising, since both were also scientists, as was Margaret Cavendish. All three philosophers were able to hold in tension a religious dimension to life and scientific theories, without one cancelling out the other. Shepherd is not referred to as a scientist but, as I've shown here, she was clearly a Geologist, which is a scientific discipline. Also, as LoLordo18 points out, Shepherd was extremely good at Chemistry and made it foundational to her unique account of causation (which she considered a scientific improvement on Hume's more mechanical-style explanation based on Physics) and there are passages where she demonstrates her knowledge of combustion and mathematical formulae. 

This is, I suggest, also highly relevant to the open question of how likely it is that Shepherd was the author of the 1819 treatise. It becomes more likely that Shepherd could have authored that treatise because there is more continuation of approach and subject matter than Boyle19 argues. The chemistry found in her later work is continuous with the first part of the 1819 treatise because, as Bolton maintains about this part of that treatise "...its treatment of causality is said to be inspired by recent developments in chemical science" therefore "There may be a connection between the view of causality urged in this volume and the books published under her name."20 Although this does not prove Shepherd's authorship of the 1819 treatise beyond all reasonable doubt, it is enough to argue that scholarship should not erase the previously held standard view that Shepherd is the possible author, and I think it means that records should not be adjusted to claim that James Milne authored that treatise. There is no certainty about this and so I would advocate including the 1819 treatise in modern edition collections of Shepherd's works so readers can judge for themselves and for records to label the 1819 treatise as anonymous, with Shepherd listed as the likely author.  

What Conclusions Can Be Drawn from these Findings?

Consequently, as a result of my findings, I conclude that, either (the strong claim) the letter on Shepherd's passion for geology provides possible proof that she wrote the geological section of the 1819 treatise; or (the weaker claim), at the very least, scholars should leave open the possibility that Shepherd is the author of the 1819 treatise. I have outlined a demonstration that alternative explanations are no less plausible than Boyle's21. Her claims are not indisputable enough to assure one that we are not accidentally overlooking perhaps one of the first female geologists. 

Although James Hutton is dubbed the father of geology, there were women geologists prior to him. Shepherd would not be entirely a rarity as a female geologist, especially in the UK where there seemed to be the most amount of women either taking a keen interest in geology and collecting samples, or working in an area of the field and making discoveries, especially from the 19th century onwards. However, geology, like philosophy, still suffers from a high rate of women dropping out from the field so I find it unsurprising that Shepherd has a feminist stance on the inclusion of women in geology and that history may not credit her for her thoughts, and possibly writings, on geology. 

It's interesting to compare Shepherd with women in geology around the same time as her. I'm only going to focus on two examples which I think are pertinent to Shepherd and authorship. 

One woman geologist who was Shepherd's contemporary was Etheldred Anna Maria Benett (1776-1845) who was born just a year earlier. Benett, who specialised in fossils and owned an impressive collection of them, is considered by some to be the first female geologist. Although, like Shepherd, we have no portrait of her (only a silhouette of Benett as an adult) she, nevertheless, was well-known in her day among fellow geologists22

What can we learn about sexism in geology and academia by looking at Benett's life story? The discrimination Benett encountered23 was similar yet different from the common barriers women face in academia today, which helps one gain an insight into Shepherd's era, as opposed to making assumptions about issues Shepherd may have faced based on women's experiences in the 21st century. Nowadays, women in academia, including in STEM, are considerably under-cited compared to their male counterparts and men are seen to favour citing other men instead of women academics. However, back in the 19th century, Benett was cited by her various male peers in geology and her samples were included in a major reference book which included 41 specimens from her collection making her the second highest contributor of samples in that book24. In turn, Benett was quick to cite and give credit to men who contributed in some way to her research or from whom she had learnt something. Benett even corresponded with men in the Geological Society, including the President who referred to her as "accomplished"25. However, obviously there were other barriers women faced in the early modern period but this was still not good enough to allow her, or any other woman, to become a member of the society or present their research paper!26

Perhaps unfortunately, her academic generosity led her to also give out her ideas freely when discussing and writing letters about science, thus many leading men learned a great deal from her and no doubt wrote up her ideas27. Meanwhile, Benett sadly only published two articles which simply detail her collection, although she clearly had research findings she could have written up and published. This can be seen by her disagreement with Sowerby about his conclusions drawn from her illustration that he had published in 1816 without her knowledge or consent28. Furthermore, she also disagreed with Sowerby's accuracy generally, or rather the lack of it29. So, like Shepherd, Benett had her work published without her knowledge and consent and in a way with which she did not agree. In Benett's case, it was her biostratigraphic illustration of stone beds in a quarry from which she drew different scientific conclusions based on her commission and research30. In Shepherd's case, it was her response to John Fearn's 1820 book, which she had intended as a private correspondence but it was, nevertheless, published in Parriana in 1828, alongside his sharp criticisms of Shepherd's views. In her defense, Shepherd decided to publish an article, clarifying her views as well as outlining her objections to Fearn's criticisms of her and his overall philosophical arguments.31

Unlike these days, Benett found it easy enough to have interesting, academic correspondence with her peers, despite them being mostly men in a male dominated field of academia. This was by no means unusual. Women in even earlier eras also maintained academic correspondences, including with male experts in their field, such as Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia (1618 - 1680), who sent Descartes her objections to his Substance Dualism; Lady Conway (1631-1679) with More; Lady Masham (1659-1708) with Locke and Leibniz. The correspondence did not amount to a pat on the back for the men, but rather, were critical exchanges between them. The women were happy to pull them up on anything they deemed in error. This is despite women not having access to formal education. So why has this not carried on today? 

Male academics (or women academics for that matter) do not generally correspond with women at any level of education or academic position as they did back in the early modern era, even though emails would make it a much faster and easier process. I attempted to begin academic exchanges by email (all men with the exception of one female PhD student at an Israeli university) when starting out as an independent researcher, but I found they are more unresponsive or snobby than they generally were in the early modern era! And less willing to accept that they may have made an error, such as conflating two Hebrew words, for instance, 'Herem' and 'Get'. Yet, women in the 17th-19th century were demolishing entire arguments and theories that their male peers had put forward, not just questioning a word! Furthermore, the early modern men were engaging in genuine, deep philosophical debates with these women, a rare phenomenon these days in the over-competitive and uncooperative world of academia. 

My point is, the position of women in society is not clear cut, everything was not worse then and better now. Some attitudes have stayed the same. Bennett was called "masculine" and "eccentric"32 in her era, although there's nothing wrong with that! Or unusual, given that Anne Lister was also seen in the same light during this same period in 19th century history. However, women like them are still often perceived in the same way today and can be treated in surprising ways. Burek33 shares her story of how Cambridge University placed her in a male halls of residence. (So much for arguments in favour of trans-excluding women's spaces and so-called sudden safety concerns about the biological physique of transwomen when a male halls of residence full of cisgender, heterosexual men is deemed an acceptable space for a woman to have a bedroom!) 

Women in the past enjoyed some freedoms women do not have access to today and we have other benefits that they did not. Nevertheless, the drop out rate and thinning out of women students and lecturers means that, both in terms of qualifications and jobs, there are significantly more women at the bottom than at the top of the academic ladder. The ceiling level is set very low for women in universities. Thus, one must not suffer from historical arrogance by assuming that women no longer have the same problems as they did in the early modern era and the 19th century. Benett was annoyed that her work was misquoted by men and that men in science had a "very low opinion" of women's "abilities"34, but these are persistent issues women still face in academia today, whether in philosophy or STEM. 

Another female geologist in the UK who was born a couple of years before Shepherd's disputed treatise was Elizabeth Catherine Thomas Carne (1817–1873). Although she did write, her works were not especially scientific. Even so, she published one work in 1860 under a male pseudonym (that bore no resemblance to her own name) and a different work, this time a religious pamphlet, published anonymously in 1871. This shows us two publishing problems for women that may be relevant to the 1819 treatise. One is that, around 62 years after the 1819 treatise, women geologists still felt they needed to publish their work anonymously, even if it was not about geology. A second authorship identification problem is that, even 41 years after the 1819 treatise, a British women thinker and geologist such as Carne was publishing under a fabricated male name. 

All this, I suggest, poses an important and huge problem when making claims and constructing arguments concluding that an historical text is clearly authored by a man rather than a woman, mostly on the basis of apparent historical evidence that there is a male name listed as the author of the work. Boyle35 leaves a great deal of questions unanswered in this article, such as why she feels the 1819 treatise is so discontinuous with Shepherd's other treatises, despite elsewhere36 citing Shepherd's chemistry formula in her 1824 treatise, which was also initially published anonymously and is only a few years after the 1819 treatise. This one also contains chemistry references in its first part.

I have suggested that strongly denying that Shepherd could be the author of the 1819 treatise  is not only, one, a general feminist concern in history; but two, is also applicable to research methodology in the history of philosophy; and three, more specifically, when analysing whether Shepherd was the possible author of the 1819 treatise and how far one should go in dismissing her as the true author. Especially if this impacts on library records, scholarship and public information, which it already has before scholars have had the opportunity to debate it thoroughly. This, I think, is a mistake. Thus, I struggle to see how any research could establish, with absolute certainty, that Shepherd was not the author. In the next chapter, I shall return to the other main line of argument that Boyle presents, namely, that James Milne is a more plausible author of the 1819 treatise than Shepherd. 


1Boyle, D., 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd' Journal of Modern Philosophy, 2(1): 5 pp1-4 [in open access download, last downloaded 4th April 2022] (June) 2020. p3 

Available at: 


2Ibid p3

3Shepherd, Mary. Essays on the Perception of an External Universe and Other Subjects Connected with the Doctrine of Causation. Piccadilly, London, United Kingdom: John hatchard and Son., 1827. p52


5Ibid p118

6Boyle, 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd' p1

7Ibid p3

8Shepherd, Mary. An Essay upon the Relation of Cause and Effect : Controverting the Doctrine of Mr. Hume, Concerning the Nature of That Relation, with Observations upon the Opinions of Dr. Brown and Mr. Lawrence Connected with the Same Subject. London, United Kingdom: Printed for T. Hookham, 1824. ;

Shepherd, Mary. Essays on the Perception of an External Universe and Other Subjects Connected with the Doctrine of Causation. Piccadilly, London, United Kingdom: John hatchard and Son., 1827.

9Boyle, D., 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd' 



12Boyle, D., 'Lady Mary Shepherd (1777-1847)' (no date given) available at: 

13LoLordo, A., 'Mary Shepherd on Causation, Induction, and Natural Kinds', Philosophers' Imprint, (December) 2019, Volume 19, NO. 52, PP. 1-14; p2

Online ISSN: 1533-628X 


Hosted by Michigan Publishing, a division of the University of Michigan Library. Available to read and download at: 

14Ibid p2

15DeRose, K., 'Mary Shepherd: A Proposed Reading', Phil126: Modern Philosophy, Descartes to Kant university course module, Yale University, April 26th 2021 

Available to download at (see pdf link, fourth to last bullet point for updated handout 28th April 2021) 

Download link:

16Boyle, 'Lady Mary Shepherd (1777-1847)'


18LoLordo 'Mary Shepherd on Causation, Induction, and Natural Kinds'

19Boyle 'Lady Mary Shepherd (1777-1847)'

20Bolton, Martha, "Mary Shepherd", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), 

Available at: 

21Boyle, 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd'

22Burek, Cynthia V. 'The first lady geologist, or collector par excellence?' Geology Today, vol 17(5), pp. 192-194 Publisher: Blackwell Science; (09/2001) p7 in pdf download

ISSN: 0266-6979; URI

Additional Links: 

Full open access article (p1-8) available to download at: 

A PDF version of this article was published in Geology Today© 2001. The definitive version is available at The illustrations have been removed.









31Boyle, D., 'Lady Mary Shepherd (1777-1847)'

32Burek 'The first lady geologist, or collector par excellence?' 



35Boyle, D., 'A Mistaken Attribution to Lady Mary Shepherd' 

36Boyle, D., 'Lady Mary Shepherd (1777-1847)'

Shepherd vol 2: Chapter 4: The Problem of Inconsistent References to the Title of the 1819 Treatise. Was James Milne the Author of Shepherd's 1819 treatise?

Chapter 4: The Problem of Inconsistent References to the Title of the 1819 Treatise. Was James Milne the Author of Shepherd's 1819 treat...