Posts Tagged ‘experimental philosophy’

I am currently re-reading Margaret Cavendish’s Observations upon Experimental Philosophy, as I will be teaching it in the near future. There are two features of the text that have struck me this time through, to which I was perhaps less attuned on my last read:

  1. I am struck by the extent to which Cavendish’s reasons for panpsychism match the reasons given in more recent discussions (e.g., Nagel, Chalmers). The basic line of argument seems to be: human beings are made of ordinary matter, just like everything else. But human beings have sensitive/rational capacities that can’t be explained mechanically. So there must be something non-mechanical—specifically, something sensitive/rational—in (all) ordinary matter. Further, she goes on to suggest, this hypothesis can explain how not just lower animals but even inanimate objects act in an orderly, seemingly intelligent fashion.
  2. I am struck by the extent to which Cavendish’s skepticism about the use of scientific instruments (e.g., microscopes) is based on a criticism of her contemporaries (e.g., Hook) for their failure to appreciate that the scientist and his instruments are themselves part of nature.

These two observations together paint a picture of Cavendish as a naturalist in the very same sense that Della Rocca applies that term to Spinoza: that is, despite her occasional talk of the supernatural/spiritual soul and God, she rejects any attempt to ‘bifurcate’ the world or to see the human being as somehow standing apart from or outside nature.

(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.)


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Jan Swammerdam, Bybel der Natuure . . . of, Historie de insecten, 1737-38, tadpole; frog


The division between authors into rationalist and empiricist is often deemed artificial. A frame imposed on early modern philosophers, not of their own making. That between speculative and experimental philosophy, by contrast, is one that also authors in the seventeenth century would have been able to identify with.

Such resonance makes it extra exciting that NYU is holding a conference on experimental philosophy with a historical bend, Experimental Philosophy Through History, on February 20th. Areas discussed range from intuition in Confucian ethics to neo-Kantian anti-empiricism, via Hume, Locke, and decapitation.

Here is the program:

“What Was the Neo-Kantian Backlash against Empirical Philosophy About?”
Scott Edgar (Saint Mary’s University)
discussion by John Richardson (New York University)


“The Curious Case of the Decapitated Frog: An Experimental Test of Epiphenomenalism?”
Alex Klein (California State University)
discussion by Henry Cowles (Yale University)




“Experimental Philosophy and Mad – Folk Psychology: Methodological Considerations from Locke”
Kathryn Tabb (Columbia University)
discussion by Don Garrett (New York University)


“Intuition and Experimentation in Confucian Ethics”
Hagop Sarkissian (Baruch College, CUNY)
discussion by Stephen Angle (Wesleyan University)




“The Impact of Experimental Natural Philosophy on Moral Philosophy in the Early Modern Period”
Peter Anstey (The University of Sydney)
discussion by Stephen Darwall (Yale University)


“Experimental Philosophy and Eighteenth-Century Sentimentalism: Hume, Turnbull, and Fordyce”
Alberto Vanzo (University of Warwick)
discussion by Alison McIntyre (Wellesley College)
Full conference details on the dedicated site.

Image: Jan Swammerdam, Bybel der Natuure … of, Historie der insecten, 1737-38, tadpole; frog

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