Posts Tagged ‘Locke’


Interested in self-consciousness and personal identity? This week the Descartes Research Group at Western University, lead by Benjamin Hill, is holding a virtual masters seminar on Udo Thiel’s The Early Modern Subject (2011). Event details:

Friday April 29
9:00-11:00 am EDT
Western University
Arts & Humanities Building, Room 2R07

For virtual attendance, join here. The portal will open 30 minutes before the session begins.

Benjamin Hill writes:

“The session will involve Prof. Thiel answering questions and responding to critical reflections that the research group as well as a number of external experts have formulated. Philosophers interested in personal identity, consciousness, and their relationship will be especially interested in Prof Thiel’s thoughts.”

A great opportunity to dive into early modern identity questions (if you weren’t sucked into those already).

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Image from: Giovanni Aldini, Essai théorique et expérimental sur le galvanisme (Paris, 1804)

The conference program for Life and Death in Early Modern Philosophy, to be held in London on April 14–16 this year, has been announced. And it’s looking good.


Thursday 14th April 2016

The Great Hall, King’s College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS

2.30–4.00 Tea and Registration in the Foyer of the Great Hall
4.00–4.30 Susan James, Welcome and Introduction
4.30–6.00 Michael Moriarty, The thought of death changes all our ideas and condemns our plans


Friday 15th April 2016

Birkbeck College, Clore Management Centre, Torrington Square, London WC1E 7JL

9.30–11.00 Ursula Renz, Our Consciousness of Being Alive as a Source of Knowledge
 11.15–12.45 Session 1 Session 2 Session 3
Meghan Robison

But a Movement of Limbs: On the Movement of life in Hobbes’ Leviathan

Steph Marston

Affects and Effects: Spinoza on Life

John Callanan

The Historical Context of Kant’s Opposition to Suicide

Barnaby Hutchins

Descartes’s ‘Vitalism’

Julie Klein

Life and Death in Spinoza: Power and Reconfiguration

Jonas Jervell Indregard

Kant on Beauty and the Promotion of Life

12.45–2.00 Lunch, coinciding with meeting of agreed and likely contributors to research network
2.00–3.30 Martine Pécharman, The Moral Import of Afterlife Arguments in Pascal and Locke
3.45–5.15 Session 1 Session 2 Session 3
Hannah Laurens

An Eternal Part of the Body? Spinoza on Human Existence Beyond Life and Death

Andreas Scheib

Johannes Clauberg and the Development of Anthropology after Descartes

Sarah Tropper

When the Manner of Death Disagrees with the Status of Life. The Intricate Question of Suicide in Early Modern Philosophy

Filip Buyse

Spinoza on conatus, inertia and the impossibility of self-destruction

Andrea Strazzoni

Particles, Medicaments and Method. The Medical Cartesianism of Henricius Regius

Teresa Tato Lima

Suicide and Hume’s Perspective about Human Life

5.30–7.00 Mariafranca Spallanzani, ‘Tota philosophorum vita commentatio mortis est’. Death of philosophers


Saturday 16th April 2016

Birkbeck College, Clore Management Centre, Torrington Square, London WC1E 7JL

9.30–11.00 Session 1 Session 2 Session 3
Kate Abramson

Living well, well-being and ethical normativity in Hume’s ethics

Dolores Iorizzo

Francis Bacon’s Natural and Experimental History of Life and Death (1623): A Lacuna in Accounts of the Scientific Revolution

Oliver Istvan Toth

Do we really need to die? Spinoza on the Necessity of Death in the Ethics

Giuliana di Biase

Human’s life as a “state of mediocrity” in John Locke’s Essay and in his other works

Gianni Paganini

Life, Mind and Body. Campanella and Descartes’ Connections

Piet Steenbakkers

Living Well, Dying Well: Life and Death in Spinoza’s Philosophy and Biography

11.15–12.45 Charles Wolfe, How I learned to love Vitalism
12.45–2.00 Lunch
2.00–3.30 Session 1 Session 2 Session 3
Sean Winkler

The Persistence of Identity in Spinoza’s Account of Individuals

Piero Schiavo

Controlling Death. Democritus and the myth of a death en philosophe

Matteo Favaretti

Camposampiero, The Ban of Death: Leibniz’s Scandalous Immortalism

  Mogens Laerke

The Living God. On Spinoza’s Hebrew Grammar and Cogitata Metaphysica II,6

Michael Jaworzyn

Clauberg, Geulincx, and philosophy as meditatio mortis after Descartes

Audrey Borowski,

Leibniz’s natural Mechanism. Life and Death Revisited

3.45–4.15 Meetings of learned societies
4.15–5.45 Lisa Shapiro, Learning to Live a Fully Human Life
5.45–6.00 Conclusion and Farewell

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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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According to the Port-Royal Logic, “words are distinct and articulated sounds that people have made into signs to indicate what takes place in the mind” (Buroker 74). Similarly, according to Locke, the use of language requires that one “be able to use [articulate] Sounds, as Signs of internal Conceptions; and to make them stand as marks for the Ideas within his own Mind, whereby they might be made known to others, and the Thoughts of Men’s Minds be conveyed from one to another” (EHU 3.1.2). Passages like these support Berkeley’s interpretation of his predecessors as holding that, in the proper use of words, the speaker “design[s] them for marks of ideas in his own, which he would have them raise in the mind of the hearer” (PHK, Intro 20). This in turn implies that “significant names, every time they are used, excite in the understanding the ideas they are made to stand for” (PHK, Intro 19). In other words, Berkeley understands his opponents to hold that “communication of ideas,” which his opponents take to be “the chief and only end of language” (PHK, Intro 20), requires that the hearer ends up having the same mental state as the speaker.

One problem with this, to which Berkeley does not call attention in his critique, is what happens when one hears and understands a sentence. Although this is disputed by Walter Ott, the standard view, which I take to be well-supported by the texts, is that for both the Port-Royalists and Locke, the mental proposition (i.e., the mental state signified by a complete sentence) carries assertive force. In the mental propositions signified by simple declarative sentences that aren’t negated, the subject idea and the predicate idea are joined by an act of affirmation. To have the mental state signified by ‘Melampus is an animal’ (Berkeley’s example in the Manuscript Introduction) just is to believe (occurrently) that Melampus is an animal. But this apparently implies that one cannot understand that sentence without believing it, and that’s absurd.

In a recent paper, Jennifer Smalligan Marušić proposes an interesting and plausible solution to this problem (see ppp. 273-277). Marušić’s suggestion is that, when communication succeeds, the hearer may form an idea of the speaker’s mental state, rather than having that mental state herself. Since the Port-Royalists explicitly distinguish between the act of affirming and the idea of that act, and say that you can have one without the other (Buroker 79), this allows us to understand sentences without affirming them. Since Locke also has ideas of reflection, it seems that he can make a similar move.

A nice feature of this approach, which Marušić does not mention, is that it helps to reconcile the Port-Royalists’ claim that “for an uttered or written sound to signify is nothing other than to prompt an idea connected to this sound in the mind by striking our ears or eyes” (Buroker 66) with their claim that the verb signifies the act of affirmation, and not the idea of that act. On this reading, the verb signifies the speaker’s act of affirmation by prompting the idea of that act in the hearer. What it doesn’t signify is that the speaker has (occurrently) an idea of affirmation.

If this is right, then the Port-Royalists may not hold quite the view of language Berkeley has in mind in his critique in the Introduction to the Principles. I don’t think, though, that this has far-reaching consequences for Berkeley’s critique. For one thing, Berkeley is arguing against the very existence of the mental states (abstract ideas) the words are thought to signify; to say that only speakers need to have these ideas, while hearers may have only ideas of ideas is not a way of escape. Furthermore, the attribution of the view that understanding involves ideas of speakers’ mental states to the Port-Royalists is better supported than its attribution to Locke. Now, I do think we need to take very seriously all the things that Berkeley says indicating the breadth of his targets (using phrases like ‘received opinion’, ‘common opinion of the philosophers’, etc.). I also think it’s pretty likely that Berkeley had read the Port-Royal Logic, simply on grounds that the book was extremely widely read in the period. However, we don’t have evidence that Berkeley gave to Port-Royal the kind of sustained attention we know he gave to Descartes, Malebranche, and Locke. So the Port-Royal Logic‘s direct impact on Berkeley’s conception of the ‘received opinion’ was probably modest at best. (The Logic‘s indirect impact, via Locke, was enormous.)

In sum, if our project is understanding Port-Royal or Locke on their own terms, Berkeley’s presentation may be misleading, because he may well be wrong to think that understanding involves simulating what goes on in the mind of the speaker, rather than just conceiving of what goes on in the mind of the speaker. On the other hand, from Berkeley’s own perspective, this is an irrelevant, hair-splitting distinction. Since abstract ideas are impossible, and we can’t conceive of impossibilities, we can’t have ideas of abstract ideas. So regardless of which interpretation we take, Locke and Port-Royal have both speakers and hearers doing things that are (according to Berkeley) impossible.

Let me conclude with some controversial assertions about the relationship between Locke’s Essay and the Port-Royal Logic. (After all, what are blogs for?) Much of Locke’s Essay can be read as an empiricist, radical Protestant rewrite of the (Cartesian, Catholic) Port-Royal Logic. (Compare, for instance, the subtle differences in the two works’ accounts of faith and the practical upshots derived from them – Buroker 260-272; EHU 4.18-19.) But Locke does not always seem to be aware of the ways in which his own anti-Cartesian polemics undermine the Port-Royal theory of mind and language. This fact is responsible for many of Locke’s well-known inconsistencies and unclarities, as for instance on the topic of whether (and in what sense) all ideas are images.

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

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I have storified this year’s Scientiae conference on emergent Early Modern knowledge practices, held in Toronto, May 27-29. The full report can be found here.

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Most debates about faith and reason in the Western tradition carry the background assumption that ‘faith’ is or involves believing the teachings of the Bible. This gives rise to a rather obvious strategy for resolving any apparent conflicts between faith and reason: reinterpret the Bible. Much of what Locke says in “Of Faith and Reason, and their distinct Provinces” (EHU 4.18) depends crucially on this assumption, and this is why, in the 4th edition, Locke saw fit to add a chapter “Of Enthusiasm” (4.19) against those who claimed a direct revelation from God not mediated by language. In this post, I want to discuss some of the historical context for Locke’s claims about reinterpreting Scripture in light of discoveries made by ‘natural reason.’


Galileo is a good place to start. In his 1613 letter to Castelli and in the much expanded version of the same letter which was addressed to the Grand Duchess Christina in 1615, Galileo holds that, since the Bible, as a revelation from God, teaches only truth, and reason, used correctly, yields only truth, the Bible properly interpreted and reason properly employed cannot yield contradictory results. From this Galileo concludes that if reason (including not just a priori reasoning, but also experimental reasoning) has demonstrated something, then the Bible should be interpreted in a way that makes it consistent with that claim.

Now, there ought not to have been anything shocking about this remark of Galileo’s. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim writers, including some of the most respected figures in the tradition (e.g., Augustine, Maimonides, Aquinas), had been saying things like this for fifteen centuries already. The problem for Galileo was that he was caught in the crossfire between the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, as well as a general conservative backlash against increasingly open religious dissent. This is borne out by the charges brought against him. Those charges include, “interpreting Holy Scripture according to your own meaning in response to objections based on Scripture which were sometimes made to you” (from the Inquisition’s 1633 sentence, tr. Finocchiaro). Similarly, the 1615 complaint against Galileo contains the charge “that some [i.e., Galileo and his followers] want to expound Holy Scripture in their own way and against the common exposition of the Holy Fathers” (Lorini’s Complaint, tr. Finocchiaro). Similarly, Caccini’s deposition from the same year charges Galileo with holding propositions which “”are repugnant to the divine Scriptures expounded by the Holy Fathers and consequently to the faith” (emphasis added). In other words, Galileo was charged with interpreting Scripture like a Protestant, i.e., without due deference for the Church and its Tradition. He was not condemned for holding that Scripture needs to be reinterpreted when the apparent meaning of the passage turns out to be contrary to some claim known by natural reason. A second issue he ran up against was that, due to the conservative backlash that was going on at the time, ‘natural reason’ (or ‘philosophy’ or ‘science’) was being identified with Aristotle. But everyone (who knew what they were talking about) agreed that, if (e.g.) Aquinas had become convinced that it can be shown by reason that the earth moves and the sun is stationary, he would have reinterpreted Scripture in accord with this, and this would have been the right thing to do, provided there had not been a prior authoritative proclamation on the subject.

Meanwhile in Holland…

… some conservatives in the Reformed (Calvinist) tradition understood the Protestant principle of sola scriptura to imply that we ought not to bring any outside information to our interpretation of Scripture. Typically, these people were reasonable enough to hold that information about the language and historical context in which the Biblical books were written was not ‘outside’ in the objectionable sense, but they held that we need to interpret the Bible first and then believe natural reason only where the Bible is silent. (These people are still around.)

In his recent book with the fantastic title A Book Forged in Hell, Steven Nadler documents a radical reaction against this approach by a friend of Spinoza’s, Lodewijk Meijer (I just read this chapter of Nadler, which was the impetus for this post). In his 1666 work, Philosophia S. Scripturae Interpres (i.e., Philosophy, the Interpreter of Sacred Scripture; an English translation was published by Marquette University Press in 2005), Meijer draws a distinction which roughly corresponds to our distinction between linguistic meaning, speaker meaning, and truth. In the case of the Bible (spoken by God), speaker meaning and truth must always align (Nadler, 122). The conclusion Meijer tries to derive from this is that, quite generally, the only way to determine which of several possible meanings of a passage God actually intended is to figure out which one(s) is/are true. This results in the conclusion that the Bible cannot reveal truths to us at all, since in order to know that a particular proposition is taught by Scripture, we first have to know that that proposition is true! (See Nadler, 124.)

Spinoza himself takes a different radical view. In the Theological Political Treatise, Spinoza argues (probably ad hominem) that even the moderate view of Maimonides, that Scripture must be interpreted so that it does not teach known falsehoods, violates an important Protestant doctrine known as the perspicuity of Scripture. This doctrine does not appear very explicitly in the confessional documents of the Dutch Reformed Church, but it was endorsed by the orthodox theologians of that tradition. Here is how the doctrine appears in the Westminster Confession (1647):

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them (art. 7).

Note that this statement of the doctrine is carefully qualified: it does not apply to everything revealed in Scripture, and it still claims that interpretation requires “a due use of the ordinary means.” However, the idea is still that even “the unlearned” can get at God’s revelation. Furthermore, some of the radical Protestants with whom Spinoza associated did not make these qualifications.

The reinterpretation of Scripture according to reason was introduced to avoid attributing to Scripture either known falsehoods or outright contradictions. Spinoza’s argument can be seen as posing the following dilemma: either Scripture has to be reinterpreted according to reason, in which case it is not accessible to “the unlearned,” or else Scripture teaches known falsehoods and contradictions, in which case it is not a source of truth. Spinoza grasps the second horn, holding that Scripture is a source of moral training, but not of ‘philosophical’ truth. This is not simply a matter of denying that the Bible is a science textbook; Spinoza even denies that the Bible teaches the truth about God.


Locke was in Amsterdam when he was putting the finishing touches on the Essay. He may well have read both Meijer and Spinoza: they both published originally in Latin and only later in Dutch translation, and they were both published in Amsterdam. By comparison to these writers, Locke adopts a moderate position. Locke’s position is essentially a generalization of the unobjectionable position adopted by Galileo. For Locke, “Faith .. is Assent to any Proposition, not thus made out by the Deductions of Reason; but upon the Credit of the Proposer, as coming from GOD, in some extraordinary way of Communication” (EHU 4.18.2). Faith is, in other words, belief on the basis of divine testimony. Against Meijer and Spinoza, Locke holds that divine testimony via Scripture can provide a rational basis for belief.

Locke argues that we can know with certainty the following principle:

Divine Veracity (DV): For any proposition p, if it is revealed by God that p, then p.

However, in order to show that it is revealed by God that p, we would need to show both that a particular utterance or inscription is a divine revelation and that that utterance or inscription means that p. Neither of these things can ever be known with certainty. Locke therefore appeals to the well-known principle that (as it is often put) one person’s modus ponens is another person’s modus tollens. The following two argument forms are both logically valid:

  1. God has revealed that p.
  2. Whatever God reveals is true.
  3. Therefore,

  4. p
  1. Not p.
  2. Whatever God reveals is true.
  3. Therefore,

  4. God has not revealed that p.

Locke explicitly draws from this the conclusion that if some claim is known to be false, we must conclude that that claim is not revealed by God. But his claim is more general than Galileo’s in two ways. First, the question of whether the Bible (or a particular canonical book) is a revelation from God is on the table here: one possible response is to concede that the Bible teaches the proposition in question and, on that basis, deny that the Bible is a divine revelation. Second, Locke does not have in mind only the restricted case in which the proposition in question is known with certainty. Locke’s argument suggests, much more generally, that the evidence that p is revealed has to be weighed against the evidence that p is false. Note, however, that this does not yield Meijer’s strong conclusion, and Locke explicitly points this out (EHU 4.18.7-9). Locke says explicitly that “an evident Revelation” (EHU 4.18.9, boldface added) can overcome probable belief on the basis of reason, but this is in the case where we determine, by reason, that the evidence of the revelation is stronger than the probability against the proposition. There are also some matters, Locke says, in which reason provides no basis for judgement, and revelation can provide us with probable belief in these cases. (For more on Locke’s religious epistemology, see sect. 1.1 of this paper.)

On the assumption that there is a God of a rather traditional sort, Locke’s view seems like a moderate and reasonable one. Any evidence against a proposition is evidence against that proposition’s having been revealed by God. That, however, does not necessarily render divine revelation impossible. The thought that it does probably stems from failure to recognize that probable belief plays an important role in our cognitive lives; not everything needs to be certain knowledge. (Locke would, I think, agree with this diagnosis.)

(cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net)

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Thinking about a comment of Eric Schliesser’s about “Toland’s defense of book learning against the distrust of it by Moderns” reminded me of a feature of Toland’s Christianity not Mysterious [CNM] that I find a little puzzling.

Early in Christianity not Mysterious Toland seems largely to be summarizing familiar Lockean views from the Essay. Thus he tells us, for example, that “all our Knowledg is, in effect, nothing else but the Perception of the Agreement or Disagreement of our Ideas in a greater or lesser Number, whereinsoever this Agreement or Disagreement may consist. And because this Perception is immediate or mediate, our Knowledg is twofold” (CNM Sect. I, ch. ii; p.12). Toland thus echoes Locke’s claim in Essay IV.i.2 that “Knowledge then seems to me to be nothing but the perception of the connecxion and agreement, or disagreement and repugnancy of any of our Ideas“, as well as his later distinction between intuitive and demonstrative knowledge.

Toland goes on, in the next chapter, to talk a little about testimony. Now Locke has often seemed to be highly individualistic about knowledge (at least in his theoretical discussions in the Essay). Either your ideas agree or they don’t, and what other people say doesn’t have anything to do with it.[1] Toland however appears to give testimony a more central role.


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Locke famously defines judgment, knowledge, etc., in terms of the joining or separating of ideas. It is quite probable that Locke’s source for this is the Port-Royal Logic. There are two well-known problems with this view. First, according to this view in order to think that Peter is not living I must mentally separate the idea of Peter from the idea of living, but if I do that then its not clear how this judgment, that Peter is not living, can be a unit which can be, for instance, embedded in complex sentences. Locke makes matters worse by talking about the joining and separating of verbal signs. Taken literally, this ought to have the consequence that ‘Peter ………………………………….. living’ means ‘Peter is not living,’ since the signs are so far apart. Obviously he can’t mean anything so ridiculous as that, but he doesn’t really tell us what he does mean.

The second problem is that it seems, on this view, that the proposition is the same as the act of judging (affirming or denying) and so one cannot entertain a proposition without either affirming or denying it. This is especially a problem given the theory of language in Locke and the Port-Royalists: a sentence is conceived as a sort of recipe for constructing a certain complex mental state. In successful communication, the speaker translates her mental state into words according to the linguistic conventions, and the hearer then ‘decodes’ the words and reconstructs the mental state. But it seems to follow that you can’t understand someone without believing him, and that’s surely wrong.

I want to suggest, briefly, that the Port-Royalists can answer these objections. The first problem is actually quite simple, and here Locke may simply be less than explicit because most of his audience had read the Logic. In their treatment of judgment, the Port-Royalists sound most like Locke when they write, “After conceiving things by our ideas, we compare these ideas and, finding that some belong together and others do not, we unite or separate them. This is called affirming or denying, and in general judging” (Buroker, p. 82). However, when they first introduce judging as one of “four principal operations of the mind,” they define it as “the action in which the mind, bringing together different ideas, affirms of one that it is the other, or denies of one that it is the other. This occurs when, for example, having the idea of the earth and the idea of round, I affirm or deny that the earth is round’ (Buroker, p. 23). Here it is said that in both affirmation and denial the subject idea and the predicate idea are ‘brought together.’ Also, affirmation and denial are clearly not being explained or analyzed in terms of uniting or separating. In fact, the Port-Royalists take these ‘principal operations’ as primitive and known by introspection. What we should really understand them as claiming is that affirming involves thinking of the ideas as united (or: as going together), and denying involves thinking of the ideas as separated (or: as not going together). Thus the mental act, thinking of the idea of Peter and the idea of living as not going together does form a unit that can be embedded in larger complexes, although the idea of Peter and the idea of living are in some sense ‘separated in thought’ by the act. They are separated in thought only in the sense of being thought of as separated.

In the case of this first problem, I think this is probably what Locke intended as well. However, it’s not clear to me that Locke is even aware of the second problem or has any inkling of an answer. The answer is found mostly in the Port-Royal Grammar, which Locke may never have read, rather than the Logic which he seems to have studied carefully. The long and short of it is that affirmation and denial are not the only mental operations for putting ideas together. In particular, according to the Grammar, there are different mental operations which can be signified by different moods of the verb, or by specialized particles, depending on the language. So, for instance, the Grammar mentions the Latin particle ‘utinam’, the French idiom ‘plut a Dieu’ and the Greek optative mood as signifying wishing, and imperatives and so forth as signifying various stronger dispositions of the will toward the connection of the ideas (Rieux and Rollins, pp. 137-138). The subjunctive is treated as signifying ‘modified affirmations,’ such as those that occur in conditionals (Rieux and Rollins, p. 136). Now the Port-Royalists treat the antecedent of a conditional as a sort of supposition from which we reason (Buroker, pp. 99-101), and the fact that the antecedent is merely supposed is what is (sometimes, in some languages) being explicitly flagged by the subjunctive mood of the verb. Sometimes the subjunctive can play the same role standing alone, as in the Greek deliberative subjunctive (the Port-Royalists don’t mention this example).

In other words, the long and short of it is, I think, that for the Port-Royalists thinking of two ideas as perhaps going together, is a different mental operation upon them than either affirmation or denial, and this is what goes on when we merely entertain a proposition. Indeed, just such a thing also happens, according to the Port-Royalists, in certain subordinate clauses. For instance, they say that in the sentence ‘people who are pious are charitable,’ “the mind judges that the idea ‘pious’ is not incompatible with the idea ‘people,’ and so we can consider them as joined together and then examine what belongs to them as unified” (Buroker, p. 90). In other words, we first have a modified affirmation, something like, ‘perhaps some people are pious,’ and then we affirm (simply) of those (hypothetical) people that they are (would be) charitable.

(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net)

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At a recent conference I gave a paper on Leibniz’s correspondence with Thomas Burnett of Kemnay. Among my questions was how Locke appeared to Leibniz. Did he look like a Socinian, or similar sort of religiously dubious character? In answering that, it would be good to have some idea of how Leibniz thought about Locke’s Reasonableness of Christianity. But Leibniz said relatively little explicitly about that text. There is, however, an argument in Leibniz’s correspondence with Burnett that seems to bear on the issue.

It seems to me that too many books aiming to prove the truth of religion are written in your country. That’s a bad sign, and is something that doesn’t always have a good effect … I have often thought, and others have come to agree with me, that preachers should usually avoid this issue, because instead of relieving doubts, they give rise to them. Books in vernacular languages have this effect most often … I’d prefer that we concentrated on making the wisdom of God known through physics and mathematics, by revealing more and more of the wonders of nature. That’s the real way to convince the profane, and should be the goal of philosophy (Leibniz to Burnett, 18 July 1701, A 1.20.185, pp.286-7).


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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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