Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Cavendish’

(It’s been rather quiet around here for a long time, but perhaps some people still have this site in their RSS readers.)

Thanks to a very helpful email from Jonathan Shaheen, I just updated The Letters in the Philosophical Letters, my page that tries to say what each of the many letters is about. PL 4.23 refers, I learn, to Constantijn Huygens. As the page now says:

Number: 4.23
Topic: On assorted further questions
Reference: Includes a reference to a Mr V.Z. and his questions “concerning those glasses, one of which being held close in ones hand, and a little piece being broke of its tail, makes as great a noise as the discharging of a Gun”. Mr V.Z. here is Constantijn Huygens. One of the two letters from him to Cavendish that were published in Cavendish (1676) is on this topic (Cavendish 1676, 119-20). As published, that letter is signed “Huygens de Zulichem”; “V.Z.” would be “van Zuilichem”. Constantijn Huygens had bought the lordship of Zuilichem, and thus became the heer van Zuilichem. (Thanks to Jonathan Shaheen, who figured this reference out.)

Speaking of the Philosophical Letters, I see that Hackett are going to publish an abridged edition, edited by Deborah Boyle, in August 2021. And examination copies are free (rather than merely cheap) if you order them in April.

[Post is updated from the original—see the comments.]

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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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