Today was the first meeting of the spatially discontinuous Margaret Cavendish reading group. As foretold in a recent blog post, I will be posting here, alongside the progress of the reading group, so that people who aren’t in the group itself, but want to work through Cavendish’s text, can participate.
The reading for today’s meeting was Cavendish’s “Argumental Discourse”, whose full title is:
An Argumental Discourse
Concerning some principal subjects in natural philosophy; necessary for the better understanding, not only of this, but all other philosophical works, hitherto written by the authoress.
The discourse is written as a quasi-dialogue between Cavendish’s “former thoughts” and her “latter thoughts”. In essence this portion of the text involves Cavendish subjecting her prior commitments to a critical interrogation.
The sorts of questions concerned in the discourse tend to revolve around Cavendish’s commitment to materialism, and the particular details of her materialist system. Here are some examples of the questions discussed (please do not take these formulations as canonical):
- How can there be “several degrees” of matter: animate, inanimate; sensitive, rational?
- How do the various degrees of matter relate with respect to producing/transferring motion?
- Does matter have infinite parts?
- How do the modes of matter relate to matter itself?
- How can inanimate matter be living and possess knowledge?
The section ends with Cavendish herself suggesting that she is inclined towards her “former thoughts”, though officially leaving the adjudication of the dispute up to the impartial reader.
We spent a good portion of the time trying to get clear on several different notions of parthood that seemed to be in play, as well as in trying to understand Cavendish’s commitment to complete blending of sensitive, rational, and inanimate matter.
The plan for next time is to continue discussing the Argumental Discourse, but also to push forward into the main text, with the plan to read through Part 1, Section XII on whether humans could be made to fly as birds do.
I want to get this post up as soon as possible, so people can post to it, but I may post some more of the notes that I took in the comments when I get a chance later today.