July 6, 2018

Philosophy and Trust in the Senses, from Montaigne to Berkeley

I want to begin this post with a longer sequence of quotations than is usual. The reason is that simply juxtaposing the quotations goes a long way toward telling the story I want to tell. Here, then, is a sequence of comments on philosophy and trust in the senses, ranging in date from 1580 to 1713: We want to find out by reason whether fire is hot, whether snow is white, whether anything within our knowledge is hard or soft. There are ancient stories of the replies made to the man who doubted whether heat exists—they told him to jump...
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July 2, 2018

Hooker, Hobbes, and Locke on Absolute Monarchy

Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man ... in such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth;...
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June 29, 2018

Richard Hooker's Influence on Locke's Epistemology

The influence of 'the judicious Hooker' (1554-1600) on Locke's political philosophy is impossible to miss: Hooker is cited by name 13 times in Locke's Second Treatise of Government, which is not a very long book and contains very few other explicit citations. However, Hooker is rarely mentioned in discussions of Locke's epistemology. I suggest that he should be. Recognizing this fact helps to strengthen the case for the unity of Locke's thought (epistemological, scientific, religious, and political) which has been made by John Rogers, Nicholas Jolley, and others. Hooker's general epistemology looks most like Locke's in this passage from book...
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May 22, 2018

Berkeley's Manuscript Introduction on Google Arts and Culture

A digital exhibition on Berkeley's Manuscript Introduction is now live on Google Arts and Culture. The exhibition provides an introduction to Berkeley's life and his connection to Trinity College, followed by a brief overview of some of the most interesting portions of the manuscript. I thank the TCD library staff (especially Greg Sheaf) for a great deal of assistance in curating this exhibition.
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May 18, 2018

Berkeley and Lokayata

Berkeley famously argues that "what is said of the absolute existence of unthinking things without any relation to their being perceived ... [is] perfectly unintelligible. Their esse is percipi, nor is it possible they should have any existence, out of the minds or thinking things which perceive them" (Principles, sect. 3). He aims to demonstrate this principle, he says, "In opposition to sceptics and atheists" (Three Dialogues, subtitle). As Berkeley saw it, human knowledge and traditional religion were under attack from 'freethinkers' and the root of this attack was the doctrine that real physical things must be something beyond or...
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May 13, 2018

Locke's Experimental Philosophy of Ideas

A post I've written on the methodology of Locke's Essay, based on a portion of my "Ideas and Explanation" paper, is now live on the Early Modern Experimental Philosophy blog.
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March 30, 2018

God's Solidarity with the Oppressed: Biblical Reflections for Good Friday

In a post on this blog that I am surprised to discover is now more than five years old, I proposed an approach to (religious/devotional) reading of the Bible which I called the Bible as dialogue. The central question motivating this approach is, why is the Bible written from diverse human perspectives? That is, what are we to make of the fact that the Bible does not present itself as direct divine discourse, the way the Quran does? My proposal, in brief, was that we are not meant passively to ingest the contents of this book, but to 'think along...
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February 21, 2018

"Ideas and Explanation in Early Modern Philosophy"

I have posted a new draft, "Ideas and Explanation in Early Modern Philosophy," to my writings page. Abstract: Malebranche argues that ideas are representative beings existing in God. He defends this thesis by an inference to the best explanation of human perception. It is well-known that Malebranche's theory of vision in God was forcefully rejected by philosophers such as Arnauld, Locke, and Berkeley. However, the notion that ideas exist in God was not the only controversial aspect of Malebranche's approach. Another controversy centered around Malebranche's view that ideas are to be understood as posits in an explanatory theory. Opponents of...
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January 10, 2018

Locke's Populist Logic

Again, your lordship [Stillingfleet] charges me, that I do not place certainty in syllogism; I crave leave to ask again, and does your lordship? ... And if you do, I know nothing so requisite, as that you should advise all people, women and all, to betake themselves immediately to the universities, and to the learning of logic, to put themselves out of the dangerous state of scepticism: for there young lads, by being taught syllogism, arrive at certainty; whereas, without mode and figure, the world is in perfect ignorance and uncertainty, and is sure of nothing. The merchant cannot be...
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January 8, 2018

Stillingfleet on the "Fundamental Mistake" of the Way of Ideas

The Rules established in the Schools ... seem to lay the foundation of all other Knowledge in these Maxims ... [but in fact] where our Ideas are determined in our Minds, and have annexed to them by us known and steady, Names under those settled Determinations, there is little need, or no use at all of these Maxims ... he that needs any proof to make him certain, and give his Assent to this Proposition, that Two are equal to two, will also have need of proof to make him admit that What is, is. John Locke, An Essay concerning...
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January 5, 2018

Stillingfleet's Target

I have now, I say, the satisfaction to see how I lay directly in your lordship's [Stillingfleet's] way, in opposing these gentlemen, who lay all foundation of certainty, as to matters of faith, upon clear and distinct ideas; i.e. the Unitarians, the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning; so dangerous to the doctrine of the Trinity. For the author of Christianity not mysterious [Toland] agreeing with them in some things, and with me in others; he being joined to them on one side by an account of reason, that supposes clear and distinct ideas necessary to certainty; and to...
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January 2, 2018

Berkeley and Toland on the Homoousion

EUPHRANOR. There is, if I mistake not, a practical faith, or assent, which sheweth itself in the will and actions of a man, although his understanding may not be furnished with those abstract, precise, distinct ideas, which, whatever a philosopher may pretend, are acknowledged to be above the talents of common men; among whom, nevertheless, may be found, even according to your own concession, many instances of such practical faith, in other matters which do not concern religion. What should hinder, therefore, but that doctrines relating to heavenly mysteries might be taught, in this saving sense, to vulgar minds, which...
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January 1, 2018

Toland's Rhetorical Use of Cyril and Hypatia

No, no, they were no Christians that kill'd Hypatia; nor are any Christian Clergymen now to be attack'd through the Sides of her Murderers, but those that resemble them; by substituting precarious Traditions, scholastick Fictions, and an usurped Dominion, to the salutiferous Institution of the holy Jesus. John Toland, HYPATIA: OR, THE HISTORY OF A Most beautiful, most vertuous, most learned, and every way accomplish'd LADY; WHO was torn to Pieces by the CLERGY of Alexandria, to gratify the Pride, Emulation, and Cruelty of their ARCHBISHOP, commonly but undeservedly stiled St. CYRIL (1720), ch. 21 There is some controversy regarding...
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October 14, 2017

Intentionality and Theodicy

The following line of thought is commonly found in analytic philosophy of mind: the reason calculators, for instance, are not minds is that the symbols they manipulate in order to solve mathematical problems to not mean anything to them (the calculators). It is not that their symbols/representations lack meaning or reference. Rather, they have the meaning or reference they do because of our conventions and the aims and purposes we have for calculators. This is known as derived intentionality. Our mental states, on the other hand, exhibit original intentionality. Their meaningfulness is not due to someone else's employment of those...
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October 8, 2017

Two Observations upon Observations upon Experimental Philosophy

I am currently re-reading Margaret Cavendish's Observations upon Experimental Philosophy, as I will be teaching it in the near future. There are two features of the text that have struck me this time through, to which I was perhaps less attuned on my last read: I am struck by the extent to which Cavendish's reasons for panpsychism match the reasons given in more recent discussions (e.g., Nagel, Chalmers). The basic line of argument seems to be: human beings are made of ordinary matter, just like everything else. But human beings have sensitive/rational capacities that can't be explained mechanically. So there...
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