Posts Tagged ‘Glanvill’

Locke makes use of Adam in a colorful explanation of how names are established for ideas of mixed modes and substances.  He writes: “Let us suppose Adam in the State of a grown Man, with a good Understanding, but in a strange Country, with all Things new, and unknown about him; and no other Faculties, to attain the Knowledge of them, but what one of this Age has now” (III.vi.44).  This is a useful trope.  It allows Locke to develop a thought experiment in which someone, uncorrupted in just the right way, invents a term and shapes the idea associated with it.  The distinction Locke illustrates with this example is as follows.  In developing his ideas of certain mixed modes (in this case jealousy and adultery albeit denominated by the names ‘Kinneah’ and ‘Niouph’), Adam “puts Ideas together, only by his own Imagination, not taken from the Existence of any thing [nor from] considering whether any such thing did exist” (III.vi.46).  Here, according to Locke, Adam “has a Standard [for what constitutes an instance of either Kinneah or Niouph] of his own making” (ibid).  In developing his idea of a certain substance (gold albeit denominated by ‘Zahab’), Adam “takes the quite contrary Course; here he has a Standard made by Nature” (ibid).

I want to ask whether anyone has come across an interesting example in which Adam, Eve, or a “person…on a sudden transported into our world” is used to illustrate a certain philosophical view (Treatise; SBN 293).  An example that uses Eve should be especially prized, since, so far as I can tell, she is mentioned far less frequently than Adam.  My favorite is an example from Joseph Glanvill’s Vanity of Dogmatizing (1661).  But the example I have in mind is best appreciated when paired with an example from Hume.

Hume takes our judgments about causal relations to depend entirely on the customary associations formed on the basis of repeated experience.  And there is a passage in the Abstract in which Hume draws upon Adam to persuade his reader of the truth of this view.  Hume writes: “Were a man, such as Adam, created in full vigour of understanding, without experience, he would never be able to infer motion in the second ball from the motion and impulse of the first” (A 11; SBN 651).  Hume draws two conclusions from this consideration of Adam.  The first is that “It is not any thing that reason sees in the cause, which makes us infer the effect” (ibid).  The second conclusion concerns what must be the case in order for Adam to judge two objects or events to be causally related.  Hume states: “It would have been necessary…for Adam (if he was not inspired) to have had experience of the effect, which followed upon the impulse of these two balls.  He must have seen, in several instances, that when the one ball struck upon the other, the second always acquired motion” (ibid).  In a slightly different example in the Enquiry, Hume says of Adam that “though his rational faculties be supposed, at the very first, entirely perfect, [he] could not have inferred from the fluidity and transparency of water, that it would suffocate him, or from the light and warmth of fire, that it would consume him” (4.6; SBN 27).

What is interesting about Glanvill’s use of Adam is that he takes an uncorrupted mind, such as is possessed by Adam, to involve a remarkably rich engagement with causal relations.  Glanvill gives us an Adam who is “inspired” in a way that is excluded from Hume’s example in the Abstract.  He writes of Adam:

the accuracy of his knowledge of natural effects, might probably arise from his sensible perception of their causes.  What the experiences of many ages will scarce afford us at this distance from perfection, his quicker senses could teach in a moment.  And whereas we patch up a piece of Philosophy from a few industriously gather’d, and yet scarce well observ’d or digested experiments, his knowledge was compleatly built, upon the certain, extemporary notice of his comprehensive, unerring faculties.  His sight could inform him whether the Loadstone doth attract by Atomical Effluviums; which may gain the more credit by the consideration of what some affirm; that by the help of Microscopes they have beheld the subtile streams issuing from the beloved Minerall.  It may be he saw the motion of the bloud and spirits through the transparent skin, as we do the workings of those little industrious Animals through a hive of glasse.  The Mysterious influence of the Moon, and its causality on the seas motion, was no question in his Philosophy, no more then a Clocks motion is in ours, where our senses may inform us of its cause.  Sympathies and Antipathies were to him no occult qualities.  Causes are hid in night and obscurity from us, which were all Sun to him.  (1661: 6-7)

This list might pass for a compendium of contemporary philosophical and scientific mysteries.  What is important about such instances of causation is that thinkers in the seventeenth century had made little progress in explaining them at the same time as some thinkers made rather bold claims to certainty and clarity in matters of investigating causal relations.  As it seems to me, the Adam we find here may have been intended to represent the epistemic ideal to which such metaphysical thinkers are committed.  It is an ideal, according to Glanvill, which is as easily parodied as it is shown to be unachievable.  Hence Glanvill opens his argument with this cutting methodological statement:  “I’le not move beyond our selves, and the most ordinary and trivial Phanomena in nature, in which we shall finde enough to shame confidence, and unplume Dogmatizing” (16).


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