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Archive for February, 2015

This week we continued our discussion from last time of sections 35 and 36, as well as the first 6 questions from section 37.  For next time, we will be reading up through question 14 of section 37 (page 183).

Many of the issues we focused on were similar to those we discussed in the past:  What is the relationship between the whole of nature and its parts, and between the thoughts of the parts and the thoughts (if any) of the whole?  Are the constitutive parts of nature parts in anything like our understanding of parthood, or is the terminology misleading?  Lots of discussion of infinite divisibility and anti-atomism.

One question we talked about was, “How different is Cavendish’s view from Middle Leibniz?” and this is something I am not sure we settled.

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This week, we read sections 35 and 36 of Cavendish’s Observations on Experimental Philosophy.

The discussion covered about four pages of that material, as it is a very dense four pages laying out Cavendish’s views on the relationship of finite parcels of matter to the infinite whole of nature, the relationship between self-motion, knowledge and action, the liberty of nature, the nature of perception, and the panpsychist commitment of Cavendish’s that every parcel of matter is a thinking being.  We also tried to figure out the ontological status(es) of nature as a whole, which is a single body, and a substance, but not necessarily an individual (or at least, there was interpretive debate about that point.

Since we didn’t get all the way through that reading, we only added about 10 more pages, so the reading for next time is to revisit the material we didn’t cover from this week, and then push forward through question six of section 37.

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This week’s selection covered salt water, a lot (and I mean a lot) of discussion of hot, cold, and the varieties of each, freezing, thawing, dilating, contracting, atoms (or rather, the lack thereof), the composition of the sun, and telescopes.

The organization of this text is not what I would describe as methodical, though there is a certain naturalness to the transitions in her discussions.

Some themes I expect we will discuss include:

  • Cavendish’s charge that many physical theories are prompted by confusing the methods of artifice and the methods of nature.
  • Infinite variations in nature as the cause of our errors (a common theme)
  • Non-continuous changes in physical quantities
  • Atoms (and why we shouldn’t believe in them)
  • The views on motion that relate to her discussions of dilation and contraction.

Again, this is a pre-post, so I may be totally wrong about what we wind up discussing.

FOR NEXT TIME: Sections 35 and 36

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This week’s selection went from Part 1 section 13—”Of Snails and Leeches: And whether all Animals Have Blood”—to section 23—”Of the nature of Water”—sections which included discussion of whether plants really propagate by seeds and spores, views on motion (including discussion of the Cartesian view), and a section putatively about whether ideas are colored (her answer: yes), but which also touches a great deal on how finite material minds relate to the whole of nature and to thoughts of God.

I am switching from writing these posts after the meeting to writing them up and posting them before the meeting, so that there is a place for people to post comments and thoughts right away.  As a result, I can’t yet tell you what we wound up focusing on in our discussion, but I anticipate we will spend some time talking through her views on biology and reproduction of plants, on the nature of motion (and how her views on these topics relate to Aristotelian and Mechanist frameworks), and on her discussion of how finite material minds can think of/relate to the infinite whole of nature or to God, among other things.

EDITED TO ADD: The readings for next time are Sections 24 through 34.

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