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).
Read Anne Conway’s Critique of Cartesian Dualism, by Louise D. Derksen, free from Boston University. 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.
The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy
Conway's only work was originally written (in English) between 1671 and 1675, and it was first published posthumously in 1690 in a Latin translation as Principia philosophiae antiquissimae et recentissimae de Deo, Christo et Creatura id est de materia et spiritu in genere. When an English edition was proposed, Conway's original manuscript had been lost, so that the new edition had to be based on the Latin translation; it was published in 1692 under the title The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy.
In this book, Conway was concerned to offer a critique of the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, René Descartes, and Baruch Spinoza, as well as to develop a theodicy – a reconciliation of the evil nature of the world, and especially of widespread suffering – with the existence of an omnipotent, omnniscient, benevolent creator. In some ways her work was anachronistic; all three of the philosophers whose work she criticised had been concerned to separate theology and philosophy, but for Conway theological and philosophical thinking was inextricably entwined.
Despite this she was widely admired, most significantly perhaps by Gottfried Leibniz, who acknowledged her work in his correspondence, and to whom she might have given the term "monad".