Archive for February, 2012

Virginia Tech: Visiting Assistant Professor, History of Modern Philosophy

AOS: History of Modern Philosophy; the department also has teaching needs in epistemology, philosophy of mind, and medieval philosophy. 3 courses per semester, undergraduate and graduate. Evidence of teaching  ability required. Salary: competitive. Ph.D. completed by August 10, 2012.

In addition to offering a first class MA in Philosophy, the  department is also a major component of two interdisciplinary programs, Science and Technology Studies and the Alliance for Social,  Political, Ethical and Cultural Thought.

Virginia Tech is an EO/AA  employer and particularly encourages applications from women, veterans, persons with disabilities, and minorities. Interested candidates are REQUIRED to submit a dossier and application material online at http://www.jobs.vt.edu, posting number 0121547. Applicants should arrange to have three (3) letters of recommendation sent to:  tzapata@vt.edu with “HISTORY” in subject line of email. We will begin reviewing dossiers immediately and continue until the position is filled. For more information please visit our web page at


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I am hoping, at some point in the future, to teach a graduate seminar on Early Modern Philosophy of Language.  I have a preliminary list of figures that I think are sensible to try to cover, but want to make sure I am not forgetting anyone.  My current (perhaps overly ambitious) list is:

Hobbes, Arnauld, Locke, Leibniz, Berkeley, Reid, Condillac, Smith and Mill

If anyone has suggestions of other figures (or better yet, particular readings from other figures) that would be sensible to include, let me know!

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Throughout Malebranche’s works, he always allows that God acting by particular volitions is possible. It seems incontrovertible that creation was an act of a particular volition of God. But is there anywhere in his works where he explicitly identifies another act of particular willing of God? It seems that events surrounding Christ (or perhaps even Original Sin?) would be good candidates for particular volitions — but does Malebranche ever bite the bullet and outright state that they are so? [At the very end of his Treatise on Nature and Grace, in the Illuminations of this work, Malebranche seems to indicate that between Original Sin and Christ, anyone who was saved was saved by a particular volition of God (the elect were few in number). It isn’t clear to me how to fit this statement into his general view.]

Any comments or thoughts would be most welcome!

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I could spend a lot of time talking about reasons I love the Hume Society.  Here is the latest one (the following is the text of an e-mail I just received from the Hume Society):

The Hume Society is pleased to announce a mentoring workshop for early career women in Hume studies or related areas of early modern philosophy. The workshop will be held at the Hotel Alma, the conference hotel for this year’s International Hume Conference in Calgary, on the afternoon of July 17th (the day before the conference begins). The workshop will have two components: a writing workshop with papers circulated in advance, and a practical session devoted to strategies for securing and retaining employment in academia. Work for the writing workshop should be a complete paper (something you are preparing for publication or a conference) or chapter (book or dissertation). Senior women Hume scholars will facilitate both sessions. The workshop is open to women members of the Hume Society or women registrants for the Hume Conference. If you are interested in participating, please contact Jacqueline Taylor (jtaylor2@usfca.edu) b y March 20th, 2012, so that appropriate meeting room space can be reserved. If you plan to submit work for the writing workshop, paper/chapter drafts should be sent to Jacqueline Taylor by June 15th, 2012. Papers will be pre-circulated to all participants, mentors and early career women scholars.

Thank you for your support of the Hume Society!

If you work on Hume, and aren’t a member of the Hume society, I strongly recommend fixing that.

For further information about the 2012 Hume conference in Calgary see http://humesociety.org/

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New categories on PhilPapers.org

PhilPapers, the directory of (primarily online) papers and books in philosophy, has a number of categories devoted to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophy. There are several new categories devoted to early modern British philosophers. These are:

Work on these figures was previously included in a large ‘17th/18th Century British Philosophy, Misc‘ category. These new divisions should make it easier to find relevant work on these figures.

The early modern sections, like the rest of PhilPapers, are helped when people volunteer serve as editors of sections. If you’re interested in this (helpful but not burdensome) task, you can find out more by clicking on any of the individual category links above. (I should admit that I’m currently the editor of that ‘Misc’ section, as well as of the Hobbes one.)

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This is the first of what I hope to be an ongoing series of posts concerning logic and theories of judgment in the 16th–18th centuries.

To start things off I though I’d comment on something I came across recently in the philosophy blogosphere. Over at the blog New Apps Catarina Dutilh Novaes (CDN) has an interesting post which touches on the normative import of logic for reasoning or thought more generally. In the course of this discussion CDN claims that

the view of logic as having normative import for thought is entirely misguided. It is a relic of Kantian transcendental idealism that most philosophers still hold on to, but usually somewhat uncritically.

What is it for logic to have “normative import”? The idea here, I take it, is that logic has normative import when it functions as the measure of thought and as that to which thought ought to conform. Hence, a thought is found logically wanting if it does not conform to logic (though what particular logic I leave open here) in its internal structure or functional relationship to other thoughts. Call this “normativism” about logic.


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Modern Philosophy at the Central APA

Stolen from Steve Daniel’s Early Modern Calendar:

(And I am not above pointing out that you can find more than a couple Mod Squad contributors on the program for the central)

February 15-18, 2012
American Philosophical Association Central Division Meeting
Palmer House Hilton
Chicago, IL

Thursday, Feb. 16
12:10-2:10  Symposium: Locke
Jessica Gordon-Roth (Illinois, Chicago): “A Reconsideration of Locke on Persons as Modes”
Commentator: William Uzgalis (Oregon State)

2:20-5:20  Sentiment, Taste and Judgment in the Eighteenth Century
Alex Rueger (Alberta): “Pleasure of Taste, Moral Sentiment, and Judgment in Kant, 1770-1790”; commentator Melissa R. Zinkin (Binghamton)
James Shelley (Auburn): “The Joint Verdict of True Judgment”; commentator Timothy M. Costelloe (William and Mary)

5:30-7:30  North American Kant Society: The Mary Gregor Lecture
Heiner F. Klemme (Mainz): “Kant on Moral Self-Determination and Self- Knowledge”
Commentator: Susan Meld Shell (Boston C.)

5:30-7:30  Hume Society
5:30-6:30  Miren Boehm (Wisconsin–Milwaukee): “Hume’s Two and the Same Definitions of Cause”; commentator Abe Roth (Ohio State)
6:30-7:30  Jonathan Cottrell (New York U): “Hume’s Propriety Principle”; commentator Donald L. M. Baxter (Connecticut)

7:40-10:40  Adam Smith Society
Speakers and topics TBA.

Friday, Feb. 17
9:00-12:00  Kant and Hegel
9:00-10:00  Tim Jankowiak (UC San Diego): “Space and the Objectivity of Sensation in Kant”; commentator Lisa Shabel (Ohio State)
10:00-11:00  Bryan Hall (Indiana U Southeast): “Identifying the Gap in Kant’s Critical Philosophy”; commentator David Landy (San Francisco State)
9:00-10:00  Paolo D. Bubbio (Sydney): “God, Incarnation, and Metaphysics in Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion”; commentator Mark Alznauer (Northwestern)

12:45-2:45  Symposium: Sextus and Hume
Donald L. M. Baxter (Connecticut): “Assent in Sextus and Hume”
Commentator: Richard Bett (Johns Hopkins)

3:00-6:00  Symposium: The Three Hundredth Anniversary of Rousseau’s Birth
Frederick Neuhouser (Barnard C., Columbia): “The Critical Function of Genealogy in Rousseau’s Second Discourse
Kate Abramson (Indiana): TBA
Commentator: Hans Lottenbach (Kenyon C.)

3:00-6:00  Symposium: Learning from the Past: Why Study the History of Philosophy?
Daniel Garber (Princeton): TBA
Robert Pasnau (Colorado–Boulder): “Philosophical Beauty”
Rachel Barney (Toronto): TBA

Saturday, Feb. 18
9:00-12:00  New Approaches to Old Figures: Recent Work in Feminist History of Philosophy
Karen Margrethe Nielsen (Western Ontario): “Aristotle on the Imperfect Deliberative Capacities of Women”; commentator Julie Ward (Loyola, Chicago)
Karen Detlefsen (Pennsylvania): “Cavendish on Women’s Education and Freedom”; commentator Eileen O’Neill (Massachusetts–Amherst)

9:00-12:00  Colloquium: British Empiricism
9:00-10:00  Julie Walsh (UC San Diego): “Locke and ‘the Hinge upon Which Liberty Turns’”; commentator Shelley Weinberg (Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)
10:00-11:00  Krista Rodkey (Indiana): “Good Breeding and Its Laws: Hume on Politeness, Conversation, and Delicacy of Taste”; commentator Livia Guimaraes (U Federal de Minas Gerais)
11:00-12:00  Lewis Powell (Wayne State): “Reid’s Complaint against Hume’s Maxim: Conceivability, Possibility, and Reductio Reasoning”; commentator Todd Buras (Baylor)

12:15-2:15 p.m.  International Berkeley Society Session
Katia Saporiti (Zurich): “Berkeley’s Concept of Time”
David Raynor (Ottawa): “Berkeley’s Reticence about Divine Archetypes”

2:30-5:30  Author Meets Critics: Georges Dicker’s Berkeley’s Idealism: A Critical Examination
Critics: Margaret Atherton (Wisconsin–Milwaukee) and Samuel C. Rickless (UC San Diego)
Response: Georges Dicker (SUNY College at Brockport)

2:30-5:30  Colloquium: Rationalism
2:30-3:30  Shoshana R. Brassfield (Frostburg State): “Descartes and the Danger of Irresolution”; commentator Lisa Shapiro (Simon Fraser)
3:30-4:30  Andrew R. Platt (Delaware): “Johann Clauberg’s Account of Mind-Body Interaction”; commentator Raffaella De Rosa (Rutgers–Newark)
4:30-5:30  Alexander Paul Bozzo (Marquette): “Spinoza’s Theory of Attributes”; commentator Diane Steinberg (Cleveland State)

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In my previous post I mentioned Hobbes’s worry that his materialist account of perception would lead him to a sort of panpsychism. When he explains the problem he faces, Hobbes notes that one might just accept the conclusion. After all, “there have been philosophers, and those learned men, who have maintained that all bodies are endued with sense” (De Corpore 25.5). Who were these learned men Hobbes had in mind?

One good candidate here is Tommaso Campanella. But here I want to draw attention to another possible candidate, Francis Bacon. In his Sylva Sylvarum Bacon claims that it “is certaine that all bodies whatsoever, though they have no Sense, yet they have Perception” (Bacon 1627, 211; I learned of this from David Skrbina, Panpsychism in the West, 82-3).

Bacon notes the sensitivity of this “perception”, and goes on to give several examples, many of which are examples of things that are signs of the weather. The Sylva Sylvarum was a popular work, of which Hobbes would likely have known. Aside from the work’s popularity, Hobbes had the connection of having once worked for Bacon as a secretary: a connection that makes potential Hobbes-Bacon connections particularly intriguing, though they are hard to pin down.

So what did Bacon have in mind by talking about the perception of bodies?


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Fun Leibniz Quote

I’ve been doing some reading about Leibniz’s views on blind/muffled thought in the New Essays, and I thought I’d share what is now my favorite Leibniz quote ever.  The context is that Leibniz is responding to a passage from Locke where Locke suggests that one can possess a clear idea of the relation of brotherhood while having an obscure or confused idea of its foundation.  His example is someone who knows that to be brothers is to have the same mother, but thinks that one becomes a mother by plucking a child out of a cabbage-patch.  Leibniz remarks:

Yet one time when a child was told that his new-born brother had been drawn from a well (which is how the Germans satisfy children who are curious about this matter), the child replied that he was surprised they did not throw the baby back into the same well when it troubled its mother by crying so much. The point is that that account gave him no explanation for the love the mother showed towards the baby. It can be said, then, that if someone does not know the foundation of a relation, his thoughts about it are partly of the kind I call blind, and are also insufficient, even though they might suffice in some situations.

I don’t have anything to say about this quote; I just really like it.

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This post is the first instance of a new regular feature here at the Mod Squad, “Sentimental Sundays”.  For the time being, the focus will be largely, but not exclusively, on Adam Smith’s “Theory of Moral Sentiments”.

I’ve previously blogged about Part one, Section one, Chapter one of Smith’s “Theory of Moral Sentiments” (here, here, and here), in which Smith presents the core of his account of Sympathy (and provides a fascinating account of our fear of death rooted in our sympathy for the deceased).  Today’s post concerns 1.1.2, “Of the Pleasure of Mutual Sympathy” (all page citations are to the Penguin Classics edition, edited by Ryan Patrick Hanley).

This chapter seems concerned to account for the mechanism by which the pleasure of mutual sympathy arises, though it is not ultimately clear that Smith actually offers an account of this.

Smith opens the chapter by presenting (and rejecting) an account of the pleasure of mutual sympathy (and pain of antipathy) that purports to derive it from our self-love.

Those who are fond of deducing al our sentiments from certain refinements of self-love, think themselves at no loss to account, according to their own principles, both for this pleasure and this pain.  Man, say they, conscious of his own weakness, and of the need which he has for the assistance of others, rejoices whenever he observes that they adopt his own passions, because he is then assured of that assistance; and grieves whenever he observes the contrary, because he is then assured of their opposition. But both the pleasure and the pain are always felt so instantaneously, and often upon such frivolous occasions, that it seems evident that neither of them can be derived from any such self-interested consideration. A man is mortified when, after having endeavoured to divert the company, he looks round and sees that nobody laughs at his jests but himself.  On the contrary, the mirth of the company is highly agreeable to him, and he regards this correspondence of their sentiments with his own as the greatest applause.  (p. 18-19)

Smith moves on to consider what we could call the “simple enlivening view”.  On this view, sympathetic emotions have a general enlivening tendency.  So, the mirth of the audience enlivens our mirth (whereas their silence disappoints us).  Smith does not think that this story can be (wholly) correct, though:

The sympathy, which my friends express with my joy, might indeed, give me pleasure by enlivening that joy: but that which they express with my grief could give me none, if it served only to enliven that grief.  Sympathy, however, enlivens joy and alleviates grief. It enlivens joy by presenting another source of satisfaction; and it alleviates grief by insinuating into the heart almost the only agreeable sensation which it is at that time capable of receiving. (p. 19)

Smith’s objection to the simple enlivening view is that, if the principal mechanism of the pleasure of mutual sympathy were a general enlivening effect, then sympathetic sadness would then compound, rather than alleviate one’s sadness.  Smith then notes that this explains why we would feel a stronger urge to “communicate to our friends” our negative emotions over our positive emotions.  While it is nice to transition from a pleasing emotional state to a very pleasing emotional state, it is less urgent than the transition from a very unpleasant emotional state to a less unpleasant one.

This leads Smith to reframe the question: How is it that sharing the details/communicating the causes of one’s miseries with another can relieve one’s suffering?  Smith notes that there is something additional puzzling about this, since the act of recounting one’s misfortunes re-awakens and enlivens the remembrance of the circumstances that distressed them in the first place.  Smith notes that the mourner gets some pleasure and relief from recounting their misfortunes to a friend, “because the sweetness of his sympathy more than compensates the bitterness of that sorrow, which in order to excite this sympathy, they had thus enlivened and renewed.”

It is worth observing that, for Smith, there is nothing emotionally beneficial to the mere act of verbally or mentally recounting our misfortunes (at least, nothing that has been said indicates any positive outcomes from this).  Insofar as there is benefit to doing so, it is only because it enables us to excite sympathy in another, and this sympathetic sharing of emotion is beneficial.

Smith notes another corollary to the observation that there is greater urgency to gain sympathy for our negative feelings over our positive ones:  We are more concerned that our friends dislike the same people we dislike, than that they like the same people we like.

We can forgive them though they seem to be little effected with the favours which we may have received, but lose all patience if they seem indifferent about the injuries which may have been done to us: nor are we half so angry with them for not entering into our gratitude, as for not sympathizing with our resentment.  They can easily avoid being friends to our friends, but can hardly avoid being enemies to those with whom we are at variance. (p. 20)

This is all well and good as far as it goes, but I noted at the outset of this post that Smith seems to raise a question without really answering it.  Smith asks, “how is it that sharing our sadness with someone else can relieve it?”  Smith considers and rejects a few views of how this happens, but doesn’t seem to offer his own.

Perhaps I’ve been looking at the question the wrong way, however.  If the question is, “How is it that recounting one’s misfortunes can relieve one’s sorrow?” the answer might simply be that sympathy is more pleasing than the recounting is painful.  On net, the sharing of one’s sorrow pushes one away from the extremes of sorrow, and closer to a happy state.  And this might genuinely qualify as an account:  The simple enlivening account doesn’t explain the mechanism it proposes; it simply posits a general intensification due to sympathy.  Similarly, Smith’s account is that attaining a state of sympathy is pleasing.  This is his account of how the sorrow is lessened, and it is not clear he would need to provide a further explanation of why it is that sympathy is pleasing (i.e. what makes it so).  On this way of understanding the chapter, the title itself provides the answer to Smith’s central question: attaining a state of mutual sympathy is pleasing.  This explains why our joy is enriched when we see others share in it, as well as why our sorrow is lessened when others share in it.

The end of the chapter transitions nicely into a discussion of what happens when there is a mismatch in intensity (e.g. you find the joke side-splittingly funny, and I find it slightly amusing), which sets up the subsequent chapter, “Of the manner in which we judge of the propriety or impropriety of the Affections of other Men, by their concord or dissonance with our own” (the chapter I’ll be posting about next week).

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