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Marin_mersenneThe Early Modern Letters Online project has added metadata about the published correspondence of Marin Mersenne. There is an announcement, with lots of details. And here is the Mersenne correspondence catalogue itself.

Andrew Janiak, at Duke University, has launched Project Vox, a project and resources that is sure to be of interest to our readers:

Project Vox seeks to recover the lost voices of women who have been ignored in standard narratives of the history of modern philosophy. We aim to change those narratives, thereby changing what students around the world learn about philosophy’s history.

This project is very exciting, and looks like it will be tremendously useful for people researching, teaching, or merely studying early modern philosophy!

Today we continue with section 37 of the Observations on Experimental Philosophy.

Section 37 consists of questions/objections one might have about Cavendish’s positions, coupled with extensive replies to these questions.  As is often the case, it is very useful to see how someone responds to objections to their views, because it can greatly increase our understanding of what they took the view to be in the first place.

Our focus today is a series of questions about the nature of knowledge and perception on Cavendish’s view, including her patterning theory of perception.  This is something we’ve talked about a great deal in the weeks leading up to today, so I am looking forward to discussing some of the details and intricacies of Cavendish’s account.

Remember that Cavendish is a panpsychist, and so, one aspect of her theory of knowledge and perception is that it will have to, in some sense, extend to all material bodies whatsoever.  Cavendish makes some allowances for variations in how animals perceive as compared to tables or rocks, but is sensitive to the fact that on her view, there must be some form of perception occurring in every parcel of matter.

For next time, we will be reading through Part II, section 3 (ending on page 200). We will not be meeting next week, so our next meeting will be March 17th.

(Poems by Margaret Cavendish, Poems and Fancies, 1653, spelling modernized by me)

The Circle of the Brain Cannot be Squared

A Circle Round divided in four Parts

Hath been a Study amongst Men of Arts;

Ere since Archimedes, or Euclid’s time,

Hath ever Brain been stretched upon a Line.

And every Thought hath been a Figure set,

Doubts Cyphers are, Hopes as Triangulars meet.

There is Division, and Subtraction made,

And Lines drawn out, and Points exactly laid.

But yet None can demonstrate it plain,

Of Circles round, a just Four Square remain.

Thus while the Brain is round, no Squares will be,

While Thoughts are in Divisions, no Figures will agree.

Another to the Same Purpose

And thus upon the same account,

Doubling the Cube must mount;

And the Triangular must be cut so small,

Till into Equal Atoms it must fall.

For such is Mans Curiosity, and mind,

To seek for that, which hardest is to find.

This week we continued our discussion from last time of sections 35 and 36, as well as the first 6 questions from section 37.  For next time, we will be reading up through question 14 of section 37 (page 183).

Many of the issues we focused on were similar to those we discussed in the past:  What is the relationship between the whole of nature and its parts, and between the thoughts of the parts and the thoughts (if any) of the whole?  Are the constitutive parts of nature parts in anything like our understanding of parthood, or is the terminology misleading?  Lots of discussion of infinite divisibility and anti-atomism.

One question we talked about was, “How different is Cavendish’s view from Middle Leibniz?” and this is something I am not sure we settled.

This week, we read sections 35 and 36 of Cavendish’s Observations on Experimental Philosophy.

The discussion covered about four pages of that material, as it is a very dense four pages laying out Cavendish’s views on the relationship of finite parcels of matter to the infinite whole of nature, the relationship between self-motion, knowledge and action, the liberty of nature, the nature of perception, and the panpsychist commitment of Cavendish’s that every parcel of matter is a thinking being.  We also tried to figure out the ontological status(es) of nature as a whole, which is a single body, and a substance, but not necessarily an individual (or at least, there was interpretive debate about that point.

Since we didn’t get all the way through that reading, we only added about 10 more pages, so the reading for next time is to revisit the material we didn’t cover from this week, and then push forward through question six of section 37.

This week’s selection covered salt water, a lot (and I mean a lot) of discussion of hot, cold, and the varieties of each, freezing, thawing, dilating, contracting, atoms (or rather, the lack thereof), the composition of the sun, and telescopes.

The organization of this text is not what I would describe as methodical, though there is a certain naturalness to the transitions in her discussions.

Some themes I expect we will discuss include:

  • Cavendish’s charge that many physical theories are prompted by confusing the methods of artifice and the methods of nature.
  • Infinite variations in nature as the cause of our errors (a common theme)
  • Non-continuous changes in physical quantities
  • Atoms (and why we shouldn’t believe in them)
  • The views on motion that relate to her discussions of dilation and contraction.

Again, this is a pre-post, so I may be totally wrong about what we wind up discussing.

FOR NEXT TIME: Sections 35 and 36

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