Archive for June, 2012

Some of our readers might be interested in this blog post about Hume’s essay, “On the Standard of Taste”, written by my former colleague at Wayne State, Robert Yanal.

I am in the middle of packing for a move right now, but I will be back to blogging somewhat regularly when things calm down in early July.

Oh, and if you are in the Hanover, New Hampshire area this weekend, you can hear me (among many others) talk modern philosophy at the Margaret Wilson conference.

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As well as coming across fun quotes in JE, I’ve been trying to figure out the sources of some of his basic metaphysical commitments and how they fit together. Here are a bunch of them:

(1) no creaturely diachronic identity

(2) no created substances

(3) no created powers

(4) continual creation

(5) the principle of sufficient reason

(6) idealism

(7) what I (maybe misleadingly) think of as ‘no action at a distance’ – the effect must be in the same place and at the same time as its cause

7 does a lot of work for Edwards. It’s the main (or at least most controversial) premise in his argument for 4 and 1. But he only gives parity arguments for it: If you think action “at a thousand miles distance, without any existence to fill up the intermediate … space” is unacceptable, he says, then you should think action “in different parts of space … though ever so near one to another” is unacceptable. And if you think action at a spatial distance is unacceptable, then you should think action at a temporal distance is unacceptable.

The spatial distance half is not a big deal, given 6.   Edwards ends up analyzing co-location in terms of ability to act. But I find the temporal distance half more puzzling.

Why must the effect occur at the same moment as the cause, rather than just (as Hume would say) at the next moment? I don’t think it’s because there is no next moment.  Although Edwards holds that matter is infinitely divisible and hence presumably that space is continuous, he seems to think of time as discrete.  At least, he’s happy to talk about ‘the very next moment’.

Does anyone know any antecedents to this view? Does anyone want to speculate about possible motivations?

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for Stewart and other Hobbists

“As to Mr. Hobbes’ maintaining the same doctrine concerning necessity; I confess, it happens I never read Mr. Hobbes.  Let his opinion be what it will, we need not reject all truth which is demonstrated by clear evidence, merely because it was once held by some bad man.  This great truth, that Jesus is the Son of God, was not spoiled because it was once and again proclaimed with a loud voice by the devil.  If truth is so defiled because it is spoken by the mouth, or written by the pen of some ill-minded mischievous man, that it must never be received, we shall never know when we hold any of the most precious and evident truths by a sure tenure.”

(Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will 4.6; Works 1.374)

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“Where is my mind?” – The Pixies, rock philosophers

One of the big problems that faced Newtonians in the early eighteenth century was the issue of action at a distance. It had long been thought that there could be no action at a distance, yet gravitation seemed to operate between two bodies at a distance. How could this be? One option, probably held by Newton, is that there needs to be something that is in both places and able to act at both. God fills that role nicely. Whether this frequent involvement by God in the world, giving some causal push to the stuff in the universe, is seen as a good or bad thing for theology is what separated Clarke and Leibniz, respectively.

There is a second question of action at a distance. Besides the (at least apparent) causal interaction between two bodies, is there action at a distance between a soul and a body? That is, in order for a soul to move a body, must the soul have a location? If so, where? Is it a single point or an extended location? Could it act if at a single point? If it’s an extended space, does that mean the soul is divisible? If it is divisible, then it is presumably dissoluble, so it is not naturally immortal (a theologically discomfiting position to the orthodox). There’s a lot of problems for any of the positions.

Let’s look at one argument. Isaac Watts, in his Philosophical Essays (second edition, 1733), takes up the question of whether the soul is in the body (152ff). Some say that the soul can’t be everywhere, since then it would be infinite; so it must be somewhere. The soul must be where your body is “because it acts upon your Body, for no Being can act upon any thing at a Distance according to the old Maxim, Nihil agit in distans.” What part of this line of argument should we reject? Watts suggests that the “old Maxim” should be reconsidered.

Ans. ’Tis time, I think, that this Axiom or Maxim should be now exploded by Men of Learning, since the Philosophy of Sir Isaac Newton has prevailed in the world. We find in his System, the Sun and the Planets, which are at prodigious Distances, act upon each other by an attractive Force, which is called the Law of Gravitation; which force is incessantly influencing all parts of Matter to act upon all other parts of Matter in their Proportions, be they never so distant. But what is this Force of Attraction or Gravitation, but a powerful Appointment of the Creator? Now, if Bodies can act upon each other, without Contact or Proximity of Place, and that by the powerful and general Volition or Appointment of God, we may well allow Spirits to act upon Bodies, without any Proximity to them, by the same Divine Appointment or Volition.” 

Watts takes the “Newtonian” position that bodies can act on one another at a distance because of a general volition of God. And if a general volition of God can explain actions between noncontiguous bodies, why not between a body and a soul that is not proximate to it? I think there are some reasons to reject the parity argument that Watts seems to be making, but perhaps we could work that out in the comments.

[Thanks to Lewis for letting me join The Mod Squad, which I’ve been enjoying for some time. More about who I am here.]

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In George Berkeley: Idealism and the Man, David Berman amasses considerable circumstantial evidence to the effect that Berkeley’s movement away from Locke’s theory of language may have been touched off by an in-person encounter with Archbishop William King and Provost Peter Browne (later Bishop of Cork and Ross) at a meeting of the Dublin Philosophical Society, November 19, 1707, where Berkeley read a brief paper entitle ‘Of Infinities’ (included in Luce and Jessop, volume 4; see Berman 11-20). I think Berman’s overall picture is quite likely correct. In fact, in a paper called “Berkeley’s Lockean Religious Epistemology” which I am currently revising for Journal of the History of Ideas, I provide further evidence that some of Berkeley’s work can be seen as a direct response to Browne. However, I have just acquired a piece of information that partially undermines one piece of Berman’s case. This is Berman’s appeal to the controversy surrounding Berkeley’s ordination.

Berkeley was ordained in early 1710 by St. George Ashe, Bishop of Clogher and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College (Berman 17). (In case you are wondering, this guy is not a canonical saint; his first name was actually ‘St. George.’ This may have been a political statement on the part of his parents: he was an Irish Protestant, and St. George is the patron saint of England.) Now, Berman notes that the ordination was performed in King’s jurisdiction and without King’s permission, and King actually ordered Berkeley to be prosecuted. Berkeley escaped prosecution by writing a letter of apology to King. Berman notes that A. A. Luce had previously claimed that Berkeley was simply caught in the middle of a power struggle. However, Berman supports the claim that King had personal animosity toward Berkeley by a letter of King to Ashe, dated March 27, 1710. In this letter, King alleges that Berkeley intentionally scheduled the ordination when King was out of town.

Other evidence, however, supports Luce’s interpretation. In his biography of Browne (Peter Browne: Provost, Bishop, Metaphysician (1974)), Arthur Robert Winnett documents a protracted jurisdiction dispute between Trinity College and the archdiocese of Dublin. Winnett notes that in the 1690s “It was usual … for the resident members and Fellows of Trinity College to avoid receiving holy orders from the archbishop of Dublin” (p. 4). Browne was heavily involved in this controversy on the side of the College: Browne was rector of St. Mary’s parish in Dublin from 1698 to 1699, and he entered and left this position without knowledge or consent of the Archdiocese. King became archbishop in 1703 and actually alleged that Browne’s resignation was invalid (and therefore that all subsequent appointments to the rectory were likewise invalid), since Browne tendered his resignation to the wrong office. The dispute was finally resolved by Parliament in 1717 (p. 5). All of this information seems to me strongly to favor Luce’s interpretation over Berman’s. Furthermore, it suggests that in intentionally avoiding being ordained by King Berkeley was siding with the College and therefore with Peter Browne, its provost, contrary to Berman’s portrayal of Browne and King on the same side against Berkeley.

(cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net)

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First, let me apologize for not posting much for a while now. The end of the semester was keeping me busy, and now I am preparing to move over the summer.  I’m hoping to get back into some regular posting soon, though.  

In the mean time, I thought something that might be good would be for people to mention, in the comments, recent or soon-to-be-released books on modern philosophy that might make for some good summer reading choices (there are no particular constraints on how recent a book needs to be for you to mention it).  

Oh, and people should feel free to mention their own books.

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