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I also find that the senses show me that the soul moves the body, but they teach me nothing (no more than do the understanding and the imagination) of the way in which it does so. For this reason, I think that there are some properties of the soul, which are unknown to us, which could perhaps overturn what your Metaphysical Meditations persuaded me of by such good reasoning: the nonextendedness of the soul. This doubt seems to be founded on the rule that you give there, in speaking of the true and the false, that all error comes to us in forming judgments about that which we do not perceive well enough. Though extension is not necessary to thought, neither is it at all repugnant to it, and so it could be suited to some other function of the soul which is no less essential to it.

Elisabeth to Descartes, 1 July 1643 (tr. Shapiro)

When Elisabeth’s correspondence with Descartes is mentioned, it is often merely to credit her with being (among) the first to raise the interaction problem for substance dualism. But this radically understates what she’s doing here, and the depth of understanding of Descartes’s system she demonstrates. The brief quotation above is one of the most decisive refutations in the history of Western philosophy. Very probably, Descartes knows it and this is why he completely changes the subject in the next letter. As Leibniz observed, “Descartes had given up the game at this point” (“New System of Nature” (1695), tr. Ariew and Garber, p. 142).

The problem is this: the fundamental starting point of Descartes’s system is the claim that by the pure intellect we grasp the essence of body (extension) and the essence of mind (thought), and we can see that these two natures have nothing in common. Further, he claims, every feature of an entity must be a modification of its essence. Thus every feature of a body must be some particular manner of being extended, and every feature of a mind must be some particular manner of thinking. Further, Descartes is committed to the a priori intelligibility of causal relations. However, since extension and thought are utterly conceptually independent no a priori causal connection between any mode of extension and any mode of thought is possible. Thus if, as Descartes claims, we know by experience that the soul moves the body (i.e., causes the body to move), then mind, body, and causation are not thoroughly intelligible as Descartes supposes. Not only does this undermine Descartes’s argument for the real distinction of mind and body; it undermines most of his philosophical system. Game over, turn the lights out, it’s time to go home.

(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net)

University of York, UK

June 5-6, 2017

Funded by a grant from the New Directions in the Study of the Mind Project (http://www.newdirectionsproject.com/) to Louise Richardson and John Schwenkler

Keynote speakers: Mohan Matthen and L.A. Paul

Confirmed invited speaker: M.G.F. Martin

With responses from members of Sense Perception in the North (SPIN, http://spinperceptionnetwork.wordpress.com/)

Call for Papers:

  • Deadline: February 15th 2017
  • Length: Submitted papers must be suitable for presentation in no more than 40 minutes. (approx. 5000 words or less)
  • Submission details:
    • Submissions should be made via the conference site: http://spinperceptionnetwork.wordpress.com/mq/
    • Please submit papers in .doc or .pdf format prepared for anonymous review.
    • Please also include a separate covering letter including your name, e-mail address, and current position and institutional affiliation.
    • You may direct any queries to the organisers (see below) or to: question@gmail.com
    • Authors will be notified of decisions no later than mid April.

The organisers will aim to cover in-EU travel expenses and accommodation for speakers.

Further details:

The question that now bears his name was posed by the Irish philosopher William Molyneux, and discussed by John Locke in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding:

Suppose a man born blind, and now adult, and taught by his touch to distinguish between a Cube, and a Sphere …, so as to tell, when he felt one and t’other, which is the Cube, which the Sphere. Suppose then the Cube and Sphere placed on a Table, and the Blind Man to be made to see. Quaere, whether by his sight, before he touched them, he could now distinguish, and tell, which is the Globe, which the Cube. (Locke 1694: II, ix, 8)

Molyneux’s question has had enduring appeal to philosophers in the ensuing three centuries. Why this is, is something of a puzzle of its own. First, it is unclear what, if any, philosophical problem would be settled if Molyneux’s question were to be answered. Furthermore, the question looks like one that philosophers have no particular role in resolving: to answer Molyneux’s question one should just, so it seems, present a ‘man born blind’ and now ‘made to see’ with a cube and a sphere and observe whether he can tell which is which.

However, just as mysterious as its enduring appeal to philosophers is the recalcitrance of Molyneux’s question to this direct experimental approach. Despite the promise of recent studies, carrying out this apparently simple experiment has, as yet, yielded no unambiguous answer to Molyneux’s question.

It is natural to think that scientists will answer the question by performing the simple experiment, and that philosophers will draw conclusions about the issues of interest to them once an answer is provided. And this reflects a tempting picture of the form that dialogue between scientists and philosophers of perception should take more generally: the experiments that scientists perform provide data which philosophers should then interpret and use to draw conclusions. However, the enduring philosophical appeal and experimental recalcitrance of Molyneux’s question raise the possibility that this view of the roles of philosophers and scientists in thinking about Molyneux’s question specifically, and perception more generally, is mistaken.

For example, maybe philosophers can play a direct role in answering Molyneux’s question. Perhaps the scientific experiments that will contribute to answering the question are other than the simple one Molyneux described. And maybe philosophers’ interest in Molyneux’s question can be satisfied without an answer to it: to find out, philosophers need to say more clearly what the philosophical interest of the question is.

We will bring together philosophers for a two-day international conference in York to consider the different roles and interests that philosophers and scientists have in considering Molyneux’s question. By trying to answer these questions together, we will also be making progress on the larger issue of the proper form that dialogue between philosophers and scientists of perception ought to take.

We invite submissions of papers to be considered for presentation at this international conference. Potential topics include but are not limited to the following:

  • Why is Molyneux’s question of such enduring philosophical appeal?e., what traditional philosophical issues hinge on the proper resolution to Molyneux’s question? In what ways does “our” (contemporary) interest in the question differ from the earlier interests of Molyneux, Locke, and others? Can considering the historical context of the question and comparing it to our own help in understanding its enduring appeal and philosophical significance?
  • What is the role for science in answering Molyneux’s question?e., what sorts of experimental findings would help us to answer it? Why has it been so difficult to answer the question through an experiment of the sort Molyneux originally envisioned? What other experimental approaches might be taken to answering the question? What sorts of experimental data or scientific frameworks are most relevant to it?
  • What positive contributions can philosophy make toward answering Molyneux’s question, beyond the interpretation of experimental data?e., can philosophers address the question productively by considering it just as a “thought-experiment”? Can phenomenological analysis of visual and tactile experience support a positive or negative answer to the question? Can we make progress by considering how vision and touch are sources of knowledge of the spatial world?

Please do not hesitate to contact the organisers with any queries you may have.

Louise Richardson (louise.richardson@york.ac.uk) and John Schwenkler (jschwenkler@fsu.edu)

History of early modern philosophy is one of several areas of interest for the following postdoc funding opportunity. Readers are encouraged to apply!


The Irish Research Council (IRC) annually offers postdoctoral fellowships of one or two years’ duration. Applicants of any nationality are eligible, but must be in residence at an Irish university during the fellowship period. Application is made under the mentorship of a member of the academic staff at the university where the applicant hopes to reside.

The Department of Philosophy at Trinity College Dublin welcomes applications under this scheme. Mentors are available, in particular, in the following areas:

  • Metaphysics (James Miller, Peter Simons, Kenneth Pearce)
  • Epistemology (Paul O’Grady)
  • Philosophy of Language (James Levine, James Miller, Peter Simons)
  • Philosophy of Religion (Paul O’Grady, Kenneth Pearce)
  • Ethics (Ben Bramble)
  • Phenomenology (Lilian Alweiss)
  • History of Philosophy:
    • Ancient (Vasilis Politis)
    • Medieval (Paul O’Grady)
    • Early Modern (Kenneth Pearce)
    • Modern European (Lilian Alweiss)
    • Analytic (James Levine, Paul O’Grady, Peter Simons)

There has been a rich tradition of philosophical excellence at Trinity since its foundation in 1592 and today the Department is a close-knit, lively intellectual community of researchers, teachers and students that combines high-quality teaching with expansive research activity.

Trinity College Dublin Philosophy Department has been consistently ranked as a premier philosophy department and is among the top 100 philosophy departments in the world (QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016).

Prospective applicants may either contact their proposed mentor directly or contact the Philosophy Department’s Director of Research, Kenneth Pearce (pearcek@tcd.ie).

Complete details on the Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Fellowship scheme can be found at: http://www.research.ie/funding/government-ireland-postdoctoral-fellowship-2017

More information on the TCD Philosophy Department can be found at: http://www.tcd.ie/Philosophy/

A Letter from Valerie Tiberius:

Dear Colleague,

As chair of a philosophy department at a large state institution (University of Minnesota), I’ve frequently been called upon to defend philosophy and to justify its place in higher education.  This has made me reflect on what really is worth preserving, celebrating, or (possibly) changing about our field.  To this end I want to solicit the views of my philosophy colleagues in a more systematic way than just asking my Facebook friends, which is what drew me to the project of creating a survey. 

I am now writing to ask you to participate in this (fairly short) survey:  “What Matters to Philosophers”.  Please click the link below to take the survey, or copy it into the location bar of your web browser:

http://z.umn.edu/PhilosophySurvey

The point of this survey is to gather your views regarding what is valuable in your academic discipline, so that we can address questions about philosophy’s future and its role in the academy on the basis of values we share as a community.

I should say that this survey is not intended to answer tactical questions about effective ways of helping philosophy to survive in difficult times; rather, I would like to know what you believe is valuable and worth preserving in academic philosophy.  And so that you can feel comfortable being entirely candid in your responses, the survey is completely anonymous

Of course, the success of this project depends on the generous contributions of time from people like you.  Mindful of this, I have tried to create a survey that will not take too much of your valuable time – it should not require more than 15 minutes to complete. 

Data from the survey will form the substance of my presidential address at the APA Central Division meeting in Kansas City in March 2017.  Presidential addresses are published in the APA proceedings, and I hope to publish and discuss my findings in other arenas as well.  I will also share the data – in a form that does not permit the identification of any individual’s responses – with the APA and with philosophy departments who are interested in it. 

During the planning process for this project, some philosophers have expressed reservations about completing the survey because they do not have full time academic positions, or are still in graduate school, or are not APA members.  Please be assured that there are no such restrictions on who may take the survey!  It is only by hearing from as many philosophers as possible that we can get an accurate picture of what we, as a community, think about philosophy. 

I greatly appreciate your assistance. Thank you.

Yours,

Valerie Tiberius

Professor and Chair

Department of Philosophy

University of Minnesota

I have added a new file to my Cavendish page: Philosophical Letters, 1.1-29 (pdf). This is a modernized version of the early part of Margaret Cavendish’s 1664 Philosophical Letters: the front matter, and the first 29 letters in part 1. Most of those letters (4-29) discuss the work of Thomas Hobbes. The text has been modernized in its spelling, use of capital letters, and use of italics. Few changes have been made to Cavendish’s punctuation, the main one being to add apostrophes indicating possession.

Anonymous Audio

IMG_1460

Modern authors regularly published anonymously. Why did they do so, and to what effect? How to handle anonymous texts in scholarship? We discussed these topics in a recent panel on Anonymous Modern Philosophy with Julia Joráti, Alex Douglas, and Sandra Lapointe at the APA Pacific. Here you can listen to recordings of the talks:

 

Ptolemy map

Sebastian Munster, Typus Orbis A Ptol. Descriptus (Basel, 1540)

A column by Jay Garfield and Bryan Van Norden about the persistently eurocentric, homogeneous curricula in philosophy departments has been making the rounds recently. The authors diagnose that:

The vast majority of philosophy departments in the United States offer courses only on philosophy derived from Europe and the English-speaking world. (…)

Given the importance of non-European traditions in both the history of world philosophy and in the contemporary world, and given the increasing numbers of students in our colleges and universities from non-European backgrounds, this is astonishing. No other humanities discipline demonstrates this systematic neglect of most of the civilizations in its domain. The present situation is hard to justify morally, politically, epistemically or as good educational and research training practice.

Garfield and Van Norden go on to suggest that, to be transparent about the situation, Departments would do well to rebrand themselves as ‘Department of European and American Philosophy’ or suchlike.

Here I won’t go into the branding question. It’s a provocative tool to get a conversation going. I also take Garfield and Van Norden’s underlying point to be valid: Yes, there has been a systematic neglect or exclusion of authors working in non-European traditions. My focus is on what their point means for some of the discussions about canon formation we’ve been having at The Mod Squad over the past years.

Efforts have been ongoing about what to do with the set of texts and authors that is perceived as ‘canonical’ for the history of early modern philosophy. That list has indeed for a long time included simply a list of works by white, male authors from Europe. Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, Spinoza, Berkeley, Hume and Kant are standard candidates.

Last year we had a panel on the status of the modern canon (posted on this blog here). More recently we discussed how to teach Early Modern texts and which ones (here and here), and last month we ran a session on how to think about anonymous texts in philosophical scholarship. In a wider domain, projects such as the New Narratives in the History of Philosophy (lead by Lisa Shapiro, Marguerite Deslauriers, and Karen Detlefsen) and Project Vox at Duke are doing heavy duty work to incorporate new names and texts into the discussion.

These efforts are urgent, they are important, and must be pursued. I strongly support them and nothing said in what follows should be taken to detract from this work. But at the same time it becomes clear that in a certain respect, even these efforts have been systematically restricted. What we have sought to include, knowingly or unknowingly, are still predominantly works by well-off, white, European female authors. (Not exclusively, of course, and not under that description. But predominantly, and that’s already significant.)

Why have there not been like efforts to include authors from roughly the period between the 16th and 19th century working in, say, geographies of China, India, Ethiopia or Mexico? Why not teach works by, for example, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651–1695), Zera Yacob (1599–1692), or Yamaga Sokō (1622–1685)? There have been crucial efforts to be inclusive in our selection of texts, to diversify the curriculum. How come this work has still ended up being so systematically restricted?

For me, these are currently open questions. But I do want to flag two considerations that may come up specifically for the modern period.

First of all the naming—’Modern Philosophy’. Europe cherishes its scientific revolution. It’s one of the tools used to demarcate the ‘modern’ from the ‘not modern’. Did such revolutions occur simultaneously elsewhere in the world? Did they spur people to rethink the basic categories of nature? And if not, how could authors not so influenced fit in a survey of ‘modern’ philosophy?

However, I don’t see this as a big worry. The concern is artificial. Scholarship regularly uncovers is how seemingly modern ideas turn out to have non-modern roots and precursors. But learning that Descartes absorbed quite some Stoicism, making him perhaps less modern than we may have thought initially, does not require dropping him from the canon. If anything, what this concern about privileging modernity here brings out is how many course titles have a mild, evaluative resonance to them, where a more descriptive label such as ‘European Philosophy 1600-1900’ would do just as well.

Another concern may arise about coherence and scope. Texts produced outside the European or Euro-American cluster may not be produced within a single, unified tradition or sphere of influence. This can make it difficult to integrate such work into a coherent narrative when teaching students.

But this thought is unstable. Previous discussions on this blog have already brought out how, also within mainstream canonical texts, there just isn’t a single narrative or homogeneous philosophical development. Further, when did belonging to a uniform narrative of philosophical development become a requirement for being good research or teaching material? Philosophy’s history is messy. We have always needed to select. Precisely this need for selection offers opportunities. (A point noted by Peter Adamson in this recent post on the APA Blog.) What seems objectionable is to have our prime selection criterion be region of production.

Say that we recognize Garfield and Van Norden’s point as valid, and take it seriously. What would such a truly inclusive field of Modern Philosophy look like? How could it be taught effectively in a single course? It may look quite different from modern philosophy as many of us have been researching and teaching it so far.