It seems to me that the trend for professional societies, when it comes to History of Modern Philosophy, is societies focused around specific figures (such as the International Hume Society, the North American Kant Society, the International Berkeley Society, to name just a few). I saw some announcement, shortly before the Pacific APA, about plans to organize a Descartes Society.
As a member of the Hume society, my experiences have been strongly positive. The annual conferences are rewarding philosophically, and have given me the chance to meet many great people. Hume Studies is a great journal and a valuable resource for Hume scholars. I could go on, but suffice it to say, I have nothing against figure-specific professional societies.
I think, though, that there might be room for something less specific, as well. I’ve noticed the success of the recently formed “Society for the Philosophy of Agency,” and I wonder if early modernists wouldn’t benefit from something similar. The SPA’s model appears to be based around i) free membership and ii) organizing group-sessions at the APA’s divisional conferences. Now, the Hume Society collects dues, which is part of what enables them to organize international conferences, run a successful journal, and so on. But SPA’s success reveals that there is a lot of low-hanging fruit in terms of benefits to people working in the field that wouldn’t require a dues paying membership, or the administrative hassles of organizing free-standing conferences.
There are two main benefits I see from having a society organized more generally around early modern philosophy, rather than only having a number of societies dedicated to individual figures. The first is that it seems like it could help foster interactions between people working on different figures, by creating more opportunities for interaction. I take it this is a relatively straightforward benefit, so I won’t dwell on it.
Second, it can help to overcome the various pressures that push towards the narrowing of the range of figures and topics that are discussed. The Hume Society’s benefits accrue, for the most part, to Hume scholars only. The North American Kant Society’s to Kant scholars. It is great that such benefits and support are available, but if the benefits that there are only accrue to people working on a small sub-set of the figures from the early modern era, the incentives wind up disfavoring work that isn’t on those figures. I could be wrong, but it seems like Hume scholars just have a vastly greater number of opportunities to present work, get feedback, and interact with other scholars compared to, say, Locke scholars. And that’s talking about Locke, who is thought of as a central figure in the early modern period; this is even more pronounced for someone working on figures like Malebranche, Cavendish, Astell, and so on.
My impression is that such a society, even with the modest aims of mostly organizing group sessions at the APA, would help capture some low-hanging fruit in the way of benefits to people working in a wide variety of areas and on a wide variety of figures. If successful, it might make sense down the line to consider expanding beyond those initial aims.
So, I figured i would share this idea with the community to see if other people have any thoughts on this, and/or whether there would be interest in such a society.