Archive for April, 2012

This post brings me back to my earlier themes of materialism and panpsychism. But it largely developed from my trying to understand one of Henry More’s examples. More believed there to be incorporeal substances, including human minds, ghosts, and a further spirit quite unlike the others, the spirit of nature. More’s central argument for the existence of a spirit of nature relied on a series of examples of phenomena that could (allegedly) only be explained with reference to such a spirit.

One such phenomenon was the sympathetic resonance of unison strings. Roughly speaking, given two strings that are tuned to the same note, if the first is sounded, the second will start to sound the note as well, even though it has not been plucked or otherwise touched itself. As More puts it, there is a power that “makes strings that be tuned Unisons (though on several Instruments) the one being touched, the other to tremble and move very sensibly, and to cast off a straw or pin or any such small thing laid upon it” (More 1659, 451).

More was far from the first philosopher to notice this phenomenon. The example occurs in such diverse places as Plotinus’s Enneads (4.4.40-4, quoted at Gouk 1999, 87), and Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum (Bacon 1627, 72). Hume later used it to help illustrate his psychological sort of sympathy. Of most immediate relevance, however, is a discussion in Marin Mersenne’s Harmonie universelle.


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Language is both an instrument used in human thought/reasoning, and an instrument used in communication/social interaction.  Let’s call the former the ratiocinative role of language, and the latter the communicative role of language.  In their respective discussions of language, Hobbes and Locke affirm both roles for language, but they differ in terms of how they prioritize those roles when introducing their discussions of language.

For example, Hobbes’s discussion in the first part of De Corpore starts by presenting the role of language in aiding memory and ratiocination on an individual level, and then observes that, unless one wishes their scientific discoveries to perish with them, it is useful to have some way of communicating their knowledge to others.  Hobbes takes the ratiocinative role as primary, and later acknowledges a communicative role (seemingly in service of ratiocinative goals).

Contrast this with Locke’s discussion at the outset of book three of the Essay (p. 402):

§1. GOD having designed Man for a sociable Creature, made him not only with an inclination, and under a necessity to have fellowship with those of his own kind; but furnished him also with Language, which was to be the great Instrument, and common Tye of Society.[…]

§2.  Besides articulate Sounds therefore, it was farther necessary, that he should be able to use these 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.

Locke goes on to discuss, in later sections, the role of language in our individual reasoning, but it is clear that the communicative role of language takes priority, in his thinking.

I have a suspicion that this difference in orientation about the priority of the communicative and ratiocinative roles of language underwrites some of the differences in their respective theories of language, but at this juncture, I don’t have any specific examples to point to.

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We’ve finally incorporated all the information we received (and we received A LOT of information!). Thanks very much to everyone who responded. And a big thanks to Dave Gaber, who did all the dirty work of organizing and updating the file. The updated document can be found here. One of my colleagues is going to be turning this into a web based searchable database. I’ll be back in touch when that is set up (she anticipates it be user-ready in about a month). Please send any corrections, additions (including self-additions), etc… to womenhistoriansofphilosophy@gmail.com

Apologies for posting the same note everywhere, but, so it goes. I did want to let people know that their suggestions are being incorporated even though we aren’t replying to the emails. The next update, taking account the feedback that results from these posts, will appear in the web-interface version.

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Small online resources?

I’m thinking about what it makes sense to post online. I’ve been posting papers and drafts for years (almost 10, indeed). I have stuff up about classes, though it’s largely either password-protected or hidden away on UF’s Sakai site. And I have the occasional blog post here. But I’m wondering about posting other stuff — call them very small web resources.

Here’s an example. I’ve been doing some work on Margaret Cavendish’s Philosophical Letters (not entirely shameless self promotion: here’s a paper). As part of working on this, I’ve made myself a list of all the letters in the Philosophical Letters, together with a very brief note of their contents, and the texts they discuss. It’s pretty rough, but it seems like someone might find it useful. So I wonder whether it’s worth doing the work to tidy this up and put it online, and indeed how much work I should be before posting something like that. It would only take me 5 minutes to copy and paste the file into a blog post and press publish, but that doesn’t look like the best approach. Checking some things and filling some gaps would be useful, but is a project that could expand and expand.

(The other example I have in mind is a sort of equivalent file of the published correspondence of Thomas Burnett of Kemnay, correspondent of Leibniz and Locke and Trotter.)

One could make this sound grander than it is by connecting it to talk of the digital humanities. (My notes for a post about history of philosophy and digital humanities might actually yield a post at some point.) Less grandly, I suppose I’m worrying about publishing rough but possibly useful stuff. Useful thoughts?

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