Valerie Tiberius has asked me to share this with our readers. We are generally happy to post announcements like this, CFPs, or the like (provided you get in touch with us):

History of Philosophy – Tenure Track Position

The Department of Philosophy at the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities) invites applications for a full-time, tenure-track faculty position in history of philosophy beginning fall semester 2016. Appointment will be 100% time over the nine-month academic year and at the rank of tenure-track assistant professor consistent with collegiate and University policy. Required qualifications: Ph.D. in philosophy or related field. Areas of specialization: History of philosophy. Areas of competence: We are seeking someone whose research interests complement others in the department (http://philosophy.umn.edu/people/faculty.html). The Department of Philosophy has particular strengths in the areas of logic and philosophy of mathematics, moral and political philosophy, and the philosophy of science.

Candidates will be assessed according to overall academic preparation in the history philosophy, the relevance of their research to the department’s academic priorities and the field of inquiry, evidence or promise of becoming a leading researcher, evidence of commitment to teaching and skills as a teacher, and strength of recommendations. Inquiries about the position should be directed to Alan Love. To apply or learn more about the position, please see our PhilJobs listing:


Margaret D. Wilson

Margaret D. Wilson

Jeff McDonough has retrieved a crisp general audience talk by Margaret Wilson on Pascal and Spinoza, titled “Pascal and Spinoza on Salvation:  Two Views on the Thinking Reed”. The lecture was published in the Harvard Graduate Society Newsletter (Fall 1992: 8-13). Framing her lecture as addressing ‘a central humanistic issue’, Wilson surveys Pascal’s and Spinoza’s views on reason, passion and how to achieve salvation.

Some excerpts:

‘Both Pascal and Spinoza express in their writings a strong sense of urgency about finding the correct values and commitment in life, about being saved, together with an implicit conviction that there is a unique and universal right answer to be found.’ (p. 9)

‘At the heart of both Pascal’s and Spinoza’s conceptions of the situation of man in nature is the contrast between man as a finite being with strong egoistic drives, but brief duration and limited powers, and nature as vast, all powerful, limitless, infinite, and completely incommensurable with human purposes.’ (p. 10)

‘Both philosophers also stress that as finite and dependent beings, we are subject to endless external emotional influences and disturbances. These perturb our reason and constantly affect our state of mind, our sense of pleasure and misery, in ways we may be powerless to control or even to understand. To this extent, it is part of human nature to be “wretched”, as Pascal often puts it, or to be subject to the “bondage” of the emotions and of inadequate understanding, in the terminology favored by Spinoza.’ (p. 10)

Wilson observes three key differences between Pascal and Spinoza’s attitudes. These concern: (1) their view on reason’s power (or lack of it) to ‘remove us from the state of wretchedness or bondage’; (2) their respective conceptions of happiness or salvation; and (3) their account of the role and appropriateness of fear—in particular the fear of death. Wilson states:

‘Pascal believes that a correct and reasonable perception of our position in the universe naturally and appropriately produces terror. (…) Spinoza would regard Pascal’s outlook as unenlightened, morbid, and weak.’ (p. 12)

The talk ends with a number of evaluations, including the following:

‘The central problem for Spinoza’s position is that he does not provide a clear or persuasive account of the notion of absolute rational insight on which it depends. (…) In some respects, Pascal’s position seems the more accessible and believable. True, Pascal may have exaggerated the impossibility of human beings fathoming by sense and reason the infinities of nature. Our powers of extending our knowledge have not proved so easily daunted or radically hedged as Pascal apparently imagined. But it seems to me, he still looks to be more nearly right than Spinoza and some other seventeenth-century rationalists in his claims about reason.’ (p. 13)

Read the full lecture here.


Three things

Markku Roinila has updated his Leibnizian Resources page, which links to Leibniz texts and all sorts of other online material. That link goes to the front page, which lists the many updates. I notice that the Texts page includes links to all the online Academy edition volumes, including the preliminary Vorausedition and transcription files.

Secondly, it’s amazing what you find when you type ‘Spinoza’ into the youtube search box. Among other things, this video of a talk by Susan James, “Why Should We Read Spinoza?”, in which she talks about Spinoza’s theory of emotions, and uses that to think about the emotions of the historian of philosophy.

Thirdly, this post by Miriam Burstein, Updated Advice to Graduate Students on the Fine Art of Buying Books (in the Age of Digitization), is certainly relevant to the history of philosophy.

Lest you think that Plato and Monty Python were alone in imagining the philosophers drinking, I’ve presented below (for your amusement) a poem by James Beattie in which he jokingly attributes modern philosophers’ shortcomings to their fondness for drink. (James Beattie is not the English footballer but the eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher who mostly sides with Reid against Hume and wrote the Essay on Truth.) The poem can be found in a collection of his poetry, dialogues, and miscellaneous writings, which is available here and elsewhere in various editions. I’ve identified elided authors in brackets.

If you want the highlights, I recommend the verses on Descartes, Mandeville, and Huygens.

“The Modern Tippling Philosophers”

Father Hodge had his pipe and dram,
And at night, his cloy thirst to awaken,He was served with a rasher of ham,
Which procured him the surname of Bacon.
He has shown, that, though logical science
And dry theory oft prove unhandy,
Honest truth will ne’er set at distance
Experiment aided by brandy.

Des Cartes bore a musquet, they tell us,
Ere he wish’d, or was able, to write,
And was noted among the brave fellows,
Who are bolder to tipple than fight.
Of his system the cause and design
We can no more be posed to explain:—
The materia subtilis was wine,
And the vortices whirl’d in his brain.

Old Hobbes, as his name plainly shows,
At a hob-nob was frequently tried:
That all virtue from selfishness rose
He believed, and all laughter from pride.
The truth of this creed he would brag on,
Smoke his pipe, murder Homer, and quaff;
Then staring, as drunk as a dragon,
In the pride of his heart he would laugh.

Sir Isaac discovered, it seems,
The nature of colours and light,
In remarking the tremulous beams
That swom on his wandering sight.Ever sapient, sober though seldom,
From experience attraction he found,
By observing, when no one upheld him,
That his wise head fell souse on the ground.

As to Berkeley’s philosophy—he has
Left his poor pupils nought to inherit,
But a swarm of deceitful ideas
Kept, like other monsters, in spirit.
Tar-drinkers can’t think what’s the matter,
That their health does not mend, but decline;
Why, they take but some wine with their water,
He took but some water to wine.

One Mandeville once, or Man-devil,
(Either name you may give as you please)
By a brain ever brooding on evil,
Hatch’d a monster call’d Fable of Bees.
Vice, said he, aggrandizes a people;
By this light, let my conduct be view’d;
I swagger, swear, guzzle, and tipple;
And d——— ye, ’tis all for your good.

———[David Hume] ate a swinging great dinner,
And grew every day fatter and fatter;
And yet the huge hulk of a sinner
Said there was neither spirit nor matter.
Now there’s no sober man in the nation,
Who such nonsense could write, think, or speak:
It follows, by fair demonstration,
That he philosophized in his drink.

As a smuggler even P——[Priestly] could sin,
Who, in hopes the poor gauger of frightening,
While he fill’d his case-bottles with gin,
Swore he fill’d them with thunder and lightning.
In his cups, (when Locke’s laid on the shelf)
Could he speak, he would frankly confess it t’ye,
That, unable to manage himself,
He puts his whole trust in Necessity.

If they young in rash folly engage,
How closely continues the evil!
Old Franklin retains, as a sage,
The thrift he acquired when a devil.
That charging drives fire from a phial,
It was natural for him to think,
After finding from many a trial,
That drought may be kindled by drink.

A certain high priest could explain,
How the soul is but nerve at the most;
And how Milton his glands in his brain,
That secreted the Paradise Lost.
And sure, it is what they deserve,
Of such theories if I aver it,
They are not even dictates of nerve,
But merely muddy suggestions of claret.

Our Holland philosophers say, Gin
Is the true philosophical drink,
As it made Doctor H———[Huygens] imagine
That to shake is the same as to think.
For, while drunkenness throb’d in his brain,
The sturdy materialist chose (O fye!)
To believe its vibrations not pain,
But wisdom, and downright philosophy.

Ye sages, who shine in my verse,
On my labours with gratitude think,
Which condemn not the faults they rehearse,
But impute all your sins to your drink.
In drink, poets, philosophers, mob, err;
Then excuse, if my satire e’er nips ye:
When I praise, think me prudent and sober,
If I blame, be assured I am tipsy.

According to the Port-Royal Logic, “words are distinct and articulated sounds that people have made into signs to indicate what takes place in the mind” (Buroker 74). Similarly, according to Locke, the use of language requires that one “be able to use [articulate] Sounds, as Signs of internal Conceptions; and to make them stand as marks for the Ideas within his own Mind, whereby they might be made known to others, and the Thoughts of Men’s Minds be conveyed from one to another” (EHU 3.1.2). Passages like these support Berkeley’s interpretation of his predecessors as holding that, in the proper use of words, the speaker “design[s] them for marks of ideas in his own, which he would have them raise in the mind of the hearer” (PHK, Intro 20). This in turn implies that “significant names, every time they are used, excite in the understanding the ideas they are made to stand for” (PHK, Intro 19). In other words, Berkeley understands his opponents to hold that “communication of ideas,” which his opponents take to be “the chief and only end of language” (PHK, Intro 20), requires that the hearer ends up having the same mental state as the speaker.

One problem with this, to which Berkeley does not call attention in his critique, is what happens when one hears and understands a sentence. Although this is disputed by Walter Ott, the standard view, which I take to be well-supported by the texts, is that for both the Port-Royalists and Locke, the mental proposition (i.e., the mental state signified by a complete sentence) carries assertive force. In the mental propositions signified by simple declarative sentences that aren’t negated, the subject idea and the predicate idea are joined by an act of affirmation. To have the mental state signified by ‘Melampus is an animal’ (Berkeley’s example in the Manuscript Introduction) just is to believe (occurrently) that Melampus is an animal. But this apparently implies that one cannot understand that sentence without believing it, and that’s absurd.

In a recent paper, Jennifer Smalligan Marušić proposes an interesting and plausible solution to this problem (see ppp. 273-277). Marušić’s suggestion is that, when communication succeeds, the hearer may form an idea of the speaker’s mental state, rather than having that mental state herself. Since the Port-Royalists explicitly distinguish between the act of affirming and the idea of that act, and say that you can have one without the other (Buroker 79), this allows us to understand sentences without affirming them. Since Locke also has ideas of reflection, it seems that he can make a similar move.

A nice feature of this approach, which Marušić does not mention, is that it helps to reconcile the Port-Royalists’ claim that “for an uttered or written sound to signify is nothing other than to prompt an idea connected to this sound in the mind by striking our ears or eyes” (Buroker 66) with their claim that the verb signifies the act of affirmation, and not the idea of that act. On this reading, the verb signifies the speaker’s act of affirmation by prompting the idea of that act in the hearer. What it doesn’t signify is that the speaker has (occurrently) an idea of affirmation.

If this is right, then the Port-Royalists may not hold quite the view of language Berkeley has in mind in his critique in the Introduction to the Principles. I don’t think, though, that this has far-reaching consequences for Berkeley’s critique. For one thing, Berkeley is arguing against the very existence of the mental states (abstract ideas) the words are thought to signify; to say that only speakers need to have these ideas, while hearers may have only ideas of ideas is not a way of escape. Furthermore, the attribution of the view that understanding involves ideas of speakers’ mental states to the Port-Royalists is better supported than its attribution to Locke. Now, I do think we need to take very seriously all the things that Berkeley says indicating the breadth of his targets (using phrases like ‘received opinion’, ‘common opinion of the philosophers’, etc.). I also think it’s pretty likely that Berkeley had read the Port-Royal Logic, simply on grounds that the book was extremely widely read in the period. However, we don’t have evidence that Berkeley gave to Port-Royal the kind of sustained attention we know he gave to Descartes, Malebranche, and Locke. So the Port-Royal Logic‘s direct impact on Berkeley’s conception of the ‘received opinion’ was probably modest at best. (The Logic‘s indirect impact, via Locke, was enormous.)

In sum, if our project is understanding Port-Royal or Locke on their own terms, Berkeley’s presentation may be misleading, because he may well be wrong to think that understanding involves simulating what goes on in the mind of the speaker, rather than just conceiving of what goes on in the mind of the speaker. On the other hand, from Berkeley’s own perspective, this is an irrelevant, hair-splitting distinction. Since abstract ideas are impossible, and we can’t conceive of impossibilities, we can’t have ideas of abstract ideas. So regardless of which interpretation we take, Locke and Port-Royal have both speakers and hearers doing things that are (according to Berkeley) impossible.

Let me conclude with some controversial assertions about the relationship between Locke’s Essay and the Port-Royal Logic. (After all, what are blogs for?) Much of Locke’s Essay can be read as an empiricist, radical Protestant rewrite of the (Cartesian, Catholic) Port-Royal Logic. (Compare, for instance, the subtle differences in the two works’ accounts of faith and the practical upshots derived from them – Buroker 260-272; EHU 4.18-19.) But Locke does not always seem to be aware of the ways in which his own anti-Cartesian polemics undermine the Port-Royal theory of mind and language. This fact is responsible for many of Locke’s well-known inconsistencies and unclarities, as for instance on the topic of whether (and in what sense) all ideas are images.

(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.)

Scientiae 2015

I have storified this year’s Scientiae conference on emergent Early Modern knowledge practices, held in Toronto, May 27-29. The full report can be found here.

This past spring at the Pacific division meeting of the American Philosophical Association, the Society for Modern Philosophy hosted a panel about the Modern Canon featuring Lisa Shapiro and Justin E. H. Smith.  Despite the panel occurring at dinner time on the final evening of the program, it was well attended, and led to some lively discussion during the Q&A.  I am pleased to share the following documents with anyone who wasn’t able to attend the session.*

Lisa Shapiro: What is a Philosophical Canon

Justin Smith: The ‘Two Libraries Problem’: Poetry, ‘Fancy’, and the Philosophical Canon

The session and subsequent discussion were extremely interesting, and I hope that future SMP panels continue to be as fascinating and thought-provoking.  Joining the society is free, and means receiving a handful of e-mails from me over the course of the year, as well as giving you the opportunity to help plan society events or projects.


*The piece by Smith shared here is a different—but related—work to the one presented at the session.


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