Archive for July, 2013

Society for Modern Philosophy Update

The Society for Modern Philosophy now has a listserv and a website:


I am going to be out of town for a bit over a week, and I don’t know how much access I’ll have to the internet, so there likely won’t be any big progress or changes until I get back from out of town.  And I need to approve people’s requests to join the mailing list, so if you sign up and don’t get confirmation right away, that’s why.

Spread the word!

Edited To Add:

I have been asked what precisely I have in mind by the designation “Modern Philosophy”.  Trying to come up with a precise range of dates or figures to include is, of course, a whole can of worms.  In complete honesty, my main motivation for going with “Modern Philosophy” rather than “Early Modern Philosophy” had to do with Kant.  In my experience, some people use “Early Modern” to refer to work spanning from, roughly, Hobbes/Descartes up to, but not including, Kant.  I am sure that some people use the phrase “early modern” to encompass Kant as well.  I intended for the society to include Kant, at the least.  I also intended for the society’s scope not to exclude, for instance,Frege (or those who come after Frege).  This is not because I dislike Frege, but because the Analytic school and 20th century philosophy in general, seem to me outside the scope of “Modern Philosophy.”

Of course, this leaves a sizable collection of philosophers between Kant and Frege that are, as far as my intentions were concerned, neither definitely to be included nor definitely to be excluded.  As much as I love to just decide things by fiat, I figured it might be a good idea to open this up to some discussion.  So, please, share your thoughts in the comments!

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One of Margaret Cavendish’s longer discussions of the supernatural soul comes towards the end of part 2 of the Philosophical Letters [PL], where she discusses the work of Henry More. Unlike More, who believes in natural, extended, incorporeal spirits, we ought — Cavendish thinks — to distinguish between natural and supernatural souls. Natural souls are indeed extended, but are corporeal. Supernatural souls are something else entirely. But what are they? At times, Cavendish appears inclined to say that we simply cannot say what the supernatural soul is, only that it is. Thus PL 2.29 begins “Touching the State or Condition of the Supernatural and Divine Soul, both in, and after this life, I must crave your excuse that I can give no account of it”. And the remainder of that letter is partly occupied with listing topics that we should not meddle with, some of which are “Poetical Fancy”. Elsewhere she offers reasons why we cannot, at least naturally, know anything about this soul. But Cavendish is nevertheless sometimes more forthcoming about what the supernatural soul is like.

Some seemingly relevant passages — the passages featuring immaterial spirits in the Blazing World — contain her own fancies. These passages are certainly related to philosophical discussion, but we cannot simply read statements about Cavendish’s views about immaterial beings out of that fictional work. They would contradict things she clearly states elsewhere, in her more directly philosophical writings. For example, the immaterial spirits in the Blazing World talk about the “corporeal vehicles” that they require, but in PL 2.29 Cavendish lists the vehicles of souls as among the things to be taken “rather for Poetical Fictions, then Rational Probabilities; containing more Fancy, then Truth and Reason, whether they concern the divine or natural Soul”.

Leaving the fiction and fancy aside, however, Cavendish did venture some claims about what the supernatural soul is like.


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A Society for Modern Philosophy!

A few months ago, I posted the idea to start a Society for Modern Philosophy. This post got some good responses and a lot of people expressed interest. Then, I promptly did nothing about it. Doing nothing about it kept me busy for quite some time, but now I am ready to take a break from doing nothing about it.

So, I hereby declare that this is going to happen. Step one would seem to be getting a list of people who would be interested in being in such a society. Those people should send me an e-mail (lewispow@buffalo.edu), with “Society for Modern Philosophy” in the subject line (and while there’s nothing specific you have to say in the body of the email, it would be kind of weird to just send me a blank e-mail, I think, so put something in the body).

Here are some modest (and potentially less modest) proposals for what such a society might do.


Organize group-program sessions at the divisional meetings of the American Philosophical Association. Personally, my ideal format for these sessions would be to have papers by people who are somewhat more early-career, and commentary by people who are more established, but who knows if that is what would wind up happening. As a boorish American I know nothing of your international organizations, and how those conferences work, but plausibly, similar strategies could be pursued for big professional organization conferences all over the place.

A web-site hosting resources for modernists. This would include things like, recommendations of which editions are worth owning of various works for research purposes, listings of anthologies for use when teaching modern philosophy. Sample syllabi that help shake up the standard narrative (and, for instance, include more women philosophers from the period). Links to other assorted great things (like those graphical representations of the dependency relationships in Spinoza’s Ethics, and so on).

Assist in organizing (or at least connecting people) who are interested in doing skype-based reading groups. Because, if you are like me, even if you have some colleagues who would maybe be interested in talking about Hume or Descartes, you have a shortage of local colleagues who would be really excited about a Bayle’s Dictionary reading group or a reading group on Anne Conway, etc.

Less Modest:

A Modern Philosophy Podcast! I love Peter Adamson’s History of Philosophy Podcast, but I may be retired by the time he gets anywhere near the 18th century. And besides, there is plenty to talk about when it comes to Modern Philosophy. (h/t Timothy Yenter for this idea)

Book Reviews!

A Journal?

And many more!

Ok, so, step one, as mentioned, is for people who are interested to get in touch with me. Membership will be free.

Step two is going to involve the creation of some organizational bureaucracy (I know, super exciting, right?)

We’ll worry about step three when we get there.

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a new journal – Ergo

Fellow mods, please think about submitting your papers to Ergo! It’s a new, online, open access, generalist philosophy journal. Full details below.

At this stage, we really need submissions from established people in the field, to build up a reputation. Of course, we welcome submissions from unestablished people too, especially unestablished people with great papers that need a venue.

Our site says that we want contributions to “be of broad interest, at least to philosophers in the relevant subfield of philosophy”. My working assumption is that if a paper about early modern philosophy (broadly construed) is really good, it will thus be of broad interest to philosophers in the relevant subfield. And I’m the section editor.


Ergo, An Open Access Journal of Philosophy


Ergo is a general, open access philosophy journal accepting submissions on
all philosophical topics and from all philosophical traditions. This
includes, among other things: history of philosophy, work in both the
analytic and continental traditions, as well as formal and empirically
informed philosophy.

Ergo uses a triple-anonymous peer review process and aims to return
decisions within two months on average.

Ergo is published by MPublishing at the University of Michigan and
sponsord by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto.
Papers are published as they are accepted; there is no regular publication

To submit a paper, please register and login to Ergo’s editorial
management system at:

Submitted manuscripts should be prepared for anonymous review, containing
no identifying information. Submissions need not conform to the journal
style unless and until accepted for publication.

Submission and publication is free, but the journal essentially depends on
the support of reliable reviewers returning informative reports in a timely
manner. We hope that you will consider acting as referee for Ergo if asked
by one of its editors. We also hope that you will consider submitting your
work to Ergo.

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Despite her materialism about nature, and her related view that the human mind is corporeal, Margaret Cavendish thought that human beings also have a divine and supernatural soul, which is not corporeal. There are plenty of questions one might ask about this, but for now I just want to ask when she thought this, and whether and why she changed her mind about the issue.

The view that there is such a soul is most prominent in two works of the 1660s in which Cavendish engages with the work of other philosophers, the Philosophical Letters (1664) and the Observations upon Experimental Philosophy (1666). The first engages with the work of Descartes, Hobbes, More, J.B. van Helmont, and others. The Observations engages with, among others, experimental philosophers such as Hooke and Power.

In the Letters we learn that the natural mind is material: “For the Natural Mind is not less material then the body, onely the Matter of the Mind is much purer and subtiller then the Matter of the Body. And thus there is nothing in Nature but what is material” (PL 2.6, 149). However, there is also another human soul: a “Divine Soul, which is not subject to natural imperfections, and corporeal errors, being not made by Nature, but a supernatural and divine gift of the Omnipotent God, who surely will not give any thing that is not perfect” (PL 2.26, 209-10). Similarly in the Observations: “The spiritual or divine soul in man is not natural, but supernatural, and has also a supernatural way of residing in man’s body; for place belongs only to bodies, and a spirit being bodiless, has no need of a bodily place (p. 79).

There are, as I said, plenty of questions about this. But for now I just want to notice that Cavendish seems not to always to have said this. To see this, one can look at another group of her works, a series of four books — or, we might say, four versions of the same book — in which she sets out her own views in natural philosophy.


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This post is part of the Mod Squad’s Author Meets Critics on Antonia LoLordo’s “Locke’s Moral Man”.

This post makes reference to the preceding post by Shelley Weinberg

The contents of this post are entirely the work of Antonia LoLordo.

Response to Weinberg, Part 1: On Chapter 2

Shelley raises a number of concerns about my claim that Lockean consciousnesses extend themselves into the past and future by appropriation.  She starts out by reiterating a common objection to appropriation interpretations:

[T]he subjective appropriation of actions is not metaphysically robust enough for Locke’s theory of divine rectification, which is that God will make right through eternal reward and punishment all the failures of human justice … if I subjectively constitute myself from a first personal point of view, then there is nothing objective for God to look to when considering whether I am the same self now as the one who committed a past crime.  The reason is that I subjectively determine who I am through my appropriations, and I may be unable to appropriate (remember) all that I have done or I may appropriate an action I never did.

Shelley says I deny that this objection is pertinent, “seeing the problem as an inconsistency between the appropriation interpretation and divine rectification”.  I don’t think the appropriation interpretation is inconsistent with divine rectification.  (I think any interpretation that’s inconsistent with divine rectification is ipso facto a failure!)  But Shelley and I do not understand divine rectification in precisely the same way.  Shelley says that  “the underlying point of divine rectification is that God can make right (rectify) human failures of justice, including those due to wrong appropriations”.  I don’t think God needs to rectify the human failures of justice due to mis-appropriations because I don’t think there are any mis-appropriations.


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This post is part of the Mod Squad’s Author Meets Critics on Antonia LoLordo’s “Locke’s Moral Man”.

The contents of this post are entirely the work of Shelley Weinberg

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the Mod Squad’s discussion of Antonia LoLordo’s new book, Locke’s Moral Man.[1] It’s an excellent book, full of interesting arguments and new insights with respect to both well-worn topics and less-trodden territory.  The result is a systematically well-argued interpretation of the relation between Locke’s views on liberty, personal identity, and what LoLordo broadly calls “rationality,” which includes new contributions on what separates the cognitive capacities of persons and animals.  Altogether, the book provides a strong argument for how we should see Locke’s view of the moral agent not as bound by any particular metaphysical constraint, but as consisting in a set of well-defined capacities that serve as the conditions for liberty, personhood, and rationality:

To be a moral agent, a creature must meet three conditions.  First she must be capable of acting freely, in accordance with her desires; of suspending the prosecution of desires while she deliberates about the best course of action; and of amending her desires in accordance with the results of deliberation.  Second, she must be a person, that is, a being who conceives of herself as existing through time so that she imputes past actions to herself and is motivated by the prospect of future pleasure and pain.  Third, she must be sufficiently rational to be capable of abstracting and forming lasting ideas of reflection. (p. 133)

Locke’s Moral Man is composed of three sections, each of which lays out the conditions for liberty, personhood, and rationality, respectively.  I will focus my attention on an issue in chapter 2, “Personality,” and then on an issue in chapter 3, “Rationality.”


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This post is part of the Mod Squad’s Author Meets Critics on Antonia LoLordo’s “Locke’s Moral Man”.

This post makes reference to the preceding post by Jessica Gordon-Roth

The contents of this post are entirely the work of Antonia LoLordo.

I argue that to be a Lockean moral agent is to be free, rational, and a person.  Jessica argues that really all that’s needed is to be a person:  “once one is a person, the liberty and rationality required for moral agency come as part of the package”.  I agree.  I said that “although I treat liberty, personality, and rationality as distinct conditions … they’ll turn out to be closely intertwined” (2).  I said that being free implies being rational and being a person (46, 63).  I said that anyone who meets the rationality condition will be free and a person (104).  I said that if you are a person you must reach the relevant threshold of rationality (84).  Looking back at the book, I didn’t say that anyone who’s a person will be free, but I should have.  As Jessica points out, Locke’s claim that punishment is annexed to personality implies that all persons are moral agents, hence that all persons are free as well as rational.  (This is why the idea of a person is the idea of the ‘moral Man’.)  So, as Sam said, “the three conditions on Lockean moral agency … are really, at bottom, just one”.

Jessica talks about non-human animals being persons or moral agents.  I think it’s an obvious consequence of Locke’s view that non-human animals could be persons, and perhaps that some actually are.  (It’s also an obvious consequence of Locke’s view that some human beings – people in irreversible comas, the severely cognitively disabled, infants and very young children – aren’t persons.)  However, I don’t know any evidence that Locke actually thought that non-human animals could be moral agents.  Jessica might reply as follows.  It’s pretty obvious that something could be a Lockean moral agent without being a person, and Locke was a smart guy, so he must have recognized this.  If he didn’t say it, it must be because he thought it wouldn’t go over well with his audience.  I’m a bit reluctant to take this line, though.  Cultural blind spots and the force of habit can prevent even the smartest people from making obvious inferences.  Locke owned shares in a corporation that traded in slaves.


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This post is part of the Mod Squad’s Author Meets Critics on Antonia LoLordo’s “Locke’s Moral Man”.

The contents of this post are entirely the work of Jessica Gordon-Roth.

Locke’s Moral Man is an engaging book that draws interesting connections between what John Locke says in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and what he asserts elsewhere. The depth of Antonia LoLordo’s knowledge of Locke’s corpus is impressive.  So too is the way she weaves together many of the claims Locke makes therein. In Locke’s Moral Man, LoLordo sheds new light on a number of long-discussed passages in the Essay and offers a novel description of Lockean moral agency.  I am glad to have the opportunity to offer my thoughts on LoLordo’s book here. In this post I will do some to highlight points of agreement between LoLordo and myself, but I will spend most of the time posing questions and raising objections.  I will begin by briefly discussing a general concern I have regarding LoLordo’s treatment of Lockean moral agency.  Then I will raise objections more specific to LoLordo’s treatment of Locke on persons.

At the beginning of Locke’s Moral Man, LoLordo asserts that “Locke faces a problem few philosophers before him faced:” He denies that there are sharp distinctions in nature, or natural kinds. Yet he also thinks there is a sharp distinction between those who are moral agents and those who are not (1).  LoLordo’s fix for this problem is to claim that moral agency consists in a set of capacities, rather than membership in a kind:

What he ultimately offers is a set of capacities that we can understand and agree are the conditions of moral agency even if we don’t agree about what grounds them.  To be a moral agent, a creature must meet three conditions: First she must be capable of acting freely, in accordance with her desires; of suspending the prosecution of those desires while she deliberates about the best course of action; and of amending her desires in accordance with the results of deliberation. Second, she must be a person, that is, a being who conceives of herself and is motivated by the prospect of future pleasure and pain. Third, she must be sufficiently rational to be capable of abstracting and of forming lasting ideas of reflection (133).


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This post is part of the Mod Squad’s Author Meets Critics on Antonia LoLordo’s “Locke’s Moral Man”.

This post makes reference to the two preceding posts by Samuel Rickless: Post 1, Post 2

The contents of this post are entirely the work of Antonia LoLordo.

In Locke’s Moral Man I argue for the following eight claims:

(L1)        Strong active power is the underlying source of the capacity to make a change.

(L2)        Only spirits have strong active power; will is the only strong active power.

(L3)        Free actions are voluntary actions that meet certain counterfactual conditions.

(L4)        Animals will and act freely:  will and free action aren’t unique to moral agents.

(L5)        Instead, what distinguishes moral agents is a second kind of freedom.

(L6)        This is full-fledged free agency and involves suspension.

(L7)        Suspension is not caused by volition.  Locke doesn’t say what it is caused by.

(L8)        Locke is agnostic on the metaphysics of moral agency, including suspension.

Sam argues that all eight are false.  Instead, he holds:

(R1)       Strong active power is the capacity to make changes by one’s own power.

(R2)       There are many strong active powers and they are not all unique to spiritts.

(R3)       Freedom of action is the ability to do as you will (including forbear as you will).

(R4)       Only moral agents, not animals, have freedom of action.

(R5)       There’s only one notion of liberty in Locke, freedom of action.

(R6)       The ability to suspend is just a kind of freedom of action.

(R7)       Suspension is caused by the volition to suspend.

(R8)       Locke is a compatibilist.

I’ll try to defend L1-L8 against R1-R8.


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