June 28, 2017

Newton and Berkeley on the Scope of Natural Philosophy

In the first two editions of the Principia, Newton makes two pronouncements about the scope of natural philosophy that appear to be in tension with one another. In the first (1687) edition Preface to the Reader, Newton writes, "the basic problem of [natural] philosophy seems to be to discover the forces of nature from the phenomena of motions and then to demonstrate the other phenomena from these forces" (Janiak 60). In the famous General Scholium added to the second (1713) edition, Newton writes, "to treat of God from the phenomena is certainly a part of natural philosophy" (Janiak 113). We...
Continue reading "Newton and Berkeley on the Scope of Natural Philosophy"

June 27, 2017

Newton's Rationalism

One of the problems for the traditional 'Rationalists and Empiricists' story of early modern philosophy is that it is surprisingly difficult to define 'rationalism' and 'empiricism' appropriately (see here for a previous discussion). One traditional way of drawing the distinction, derived from Locke, is over the existence of innate ideas. This distinction, however, does not capture what is of importance to many other early modern philosophers, and oddly excludes Malebranche and his followers from the rationalist camp. (Since Malebranche holds that no ideas are ever in the human mind—they are all in God—he holds that no ideas are innate to...
Continue reading "Newton's Rationalism"

June 10, 2017

Epistocracy and Theocracy

I was struck by a line in Thomas Christiano's recent NDPR review of Jason Brennan's Against Democracy. Brennan, a philosopher in the Georgetown Business School and frequent blogger at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, defends the superiority of 'epistocracy'—rule by those with knowledge—over democracy, in part on the basis of evidence that voters in democracy lack the knowledge they need to make responsible decisions. Brennan acknowledges that we have significant data on what actually happens in real-world democracies and it's better than the outcomes we get from a lot of alternative systems but, he says, epistocracy has never been tried and lacks...
Continue reading "Epistocracy and Theocracy"