Historiography of Philosophy Archives

More Generally: Philosophy (480)

January 12, 2017

Berkeley and Hobbes

From a certain point of view (or perhaps several points of view), one might think that no two early modern philosophers are more opposed than Berkeley and Hobbes. True, both are empiricists, and the disagreement between rationalists and empiricists is often treated as the 'main event' of early modern philosophy. However, a comparison between Berkeley and Hobbes might well be regarded as a vivid and compelling illustration of the failings of the traditional rationalist-empiricist narrative. Note, for starters, that the ontologies of Berkeley and Hobbes are disjoint: Hobbes believes only in material substances, Berkeley believes only in spiritual (immaterial) substances....
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May 3, 2016

Two Definitions of 'Empiricism'

In traditional tellings of the history of early modern philosophy, the school of British empiricists - the Locke-Berkeley-Hume triumvirate - is seen as according foundational status to the Aristotelian principle, "nothing in the intellect which was not first in the senses." This is, of course, given new formulations in terms of the modern 'Way of Ideas'. Their philosophical systems, so the story goes, are built on this foundation. However, there is another meaning of 'empiricism' that is more common in the early modern period. This notion goes back to the ancient 'empirics,' a school of physicians who eschewed theorizing in...
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April 30, 2016

Quote of the Day: Mechanical Observations? Yum!

Hydrophilus. Mechanical Observations (said you Pyrophilus?) yea that's your Diana, you and the world of late so much admire: your Bacon and your Boyle, or your Bacon well boil'd is so much in fashion with you, that scarce any other Dish (although never so good) prepared after an old fashion, will go down with you. - W. Simpson, Philosophical Dialogues Concerning the Principles of Natural Bodies: Wherein the Principles of the Old and New Philosophy are Stated, and the New Demonstrated, More Agreeable to Reason, From Mechanical Experiments and its Usefulness to the Benefit of Man-kind (1677), 5 I was...
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April 29, 2016

Quote of the Day: The Tale of the Aristotelian Clock-Mender

I will not undertake to compare the new Philosophy with the old, but instead thereof will tell you a tale. There was a certain Husbandman who occupied a Farme with an antient mansion-house standing in the fields remote from any Town, where there was an old iron Clock in a large wooden frame, which had been a long while out of kelter, and because he was much troubled to know how the time passed, that he might order his business accordingly, he resolved to get his Clock repaired, and while he was considering where to finde a man able...
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November 27, 2015

Deism, Anthropomorphism, and Religion

I'm just beginning to think about a reference article on deism that I'm writing for the Ian Ramsey Centre's Special Divine Action Project and it has me thinking about a rather curious phenomenon in early modern philosophy and religion: the complex interplay between deism and theological anthropomorphism. Presently, the term 'deism' is associated with the 'absent watchmaker' picture of God: a highly anthropomorphic conception of a divine engineer whose prime concern is the elegant mechanical design of the universe rather than moral qualities. This is a conception shaped by 18th century Anglophone deists. However, in his large and extremely carefully...
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May 11, 2015

Some Reflections on Teaching Modern Philosophy

I have just finished teaching the survey of early modern philosophy for the first time. Here at Valpo, this course is required for philosophy majors and minors and is offered at the 200 (sophomore) level. There are a lot of ways to teach a class like this, and a lot of opinions about which ways are better, so I wanted to offer here a description of what I did and how I think it worked. (If there's anything really surprising in my evaluations when I get them at the end of this week, I may come back and revisit some...
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February 3, 2014

Why Do We Ask Why?

Several of the essays in The Puzzle of Existence argue, in one way or another, that no non-trivial answer can be given to those who ask why there is something rather than nothing. This may be because the question is somehow confused or mistaken, as in the case of Ross who argues that there is no such entity as everything (the totality of contingent concrete things, the Cosmos, etc.), and hence there can be no explaining the existence of everything. Or it may be because the Principle of Sufficient Reason is false, and so not every legitimate why question has...
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August 20, 2012

On Attributing Philosophical Errors to the Great Dead Philosophers

Eric Schwitzgebel (author of this fascinating paper on introspection) has a blog post up defending "uncharitable and superficial history of philosophy." At New APPS, Catarina Dutilh Novaes responds, arguing that we should be critical, but not superficial. Now what Schwitzgebel says he is arguing against is "excessive charity." We should all agree that there is such a thing as excessive charity in interpretation, and of course it's bad. (If it were good, it wouldn't be correctly described as 'excessive'.) The question is, at what point does interpretive charity become excessive? I take it part of Dutilh Novaes' point is that...
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March 10, 2011

Two Bad Footnotes

I found two rather bad footnotes in student editions of early modern texts this week. Both texts are from the Oxford Philosophical Texts (OPT) series. The first makes a rather contentious historical/interpretive claim, and doesn't seem to recognize that it is doing so; the second is an outright error. The first footnote is in the OPT edition of Hume's first Enquiry. In the course of a critique of occasionalism, Hume writes, It argues more wisdom to contrive at first the fabric of the world with such perfect foresight that, of itself, and by its proper operation, it may serve all...
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February 1, 2010

Philosophers' Carnival 103

The 103rd Philosophers' Carnival is now up at Philosophy, etc. with a link to my post on seeing the world through teleology-colored glasses. Also of interest in the new philosophers' carnival is Chris Hallquist's discussion of reformed epistemology and moral realism. In the course of his discussion, Chris gives a narrative of the history of early modern philosophy which is similar to my Berkeley-centric narrative (despite not mentioning Berkeley): Descartes sets up an impossible program, Hume shows that either Cartesian or classical empiricist assumptions lead inevitably to skepticism, and this motivates a 'Reidian' program...
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January 20, 2010

A Berkeley-Centric Narrative

Continuing the discussion of the historiography of modern philosophy, I want to consider an alternative narrative. The standard narrative is Kant-centric: the rationalists and empiricists spend a century squabbling, then Kant comes along and figures out what's right and what's wrong with each view, resulting in the Critical Philosophy. The key figures, apart from Kant, are Descartes, the great founder of the rationalists; Locke, the great founder of the empiricists; and Hume who called attention to the severe failings of both schools. (When I took intro to modern at Penn, this is exactly the way it went: these were the...
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January 12, 2010

Alternative Groupings of Early Modern Philosophers

Last month, there was some blog discussion about historiography and teaching methods in early modern philosophy. The standard story is evidently due to Hegel, and continues to be standard despite being unpopular among specialists in history of modern. It groups modern philosophers before Kant as follows:
Dana McCourt, blogging at The Edge of the American West...
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