“For one man calleth Wisdome, what another calleth feare”

Discussions of Hobbes’s views about language seem to proceed on two separate paths. (Neither of these paths is terribly busy, I’ll grant you, but they both seem to be there.) On the one hand there are discussions of Hobbes’s general philosophy of language — signification, nominalism, and the like. On the other hand there are discussions of what Hobbes says about language in his moral and political philosophy — on what he says about ‘good’ and ‘evil’, for example. But it seems to me that these two discussions should be more closely tied together.

One interesting text for starting to think about the link between the two is the final paragraph of chapter 4 of Leviathan. There Hobbes discusses moral language, including the names of virtues and vices. This discussion contributes to the moral and political projects of the book, while also being part of a general account of the workings of language. It uses the terminology of that general account, in particular its notion of signification.

The names of virtue and vices, and others like them, are, Hobbes says, of “inconstant signification”. Moreover, they are words,

which besides the signification of what we imagine of their nature, have a signification also of the nature, disposition, and interest of the speaker; such as are the names of Vertues, and Vices; For one man calleth Wisdome, what another calleth feare; and one cruelty, what another justice; one prodigality, what another magnanimity; and one gravity, what another stupidity, &c. And therefore such names can never be true grounds of any ratiocination. No more can Metaphors, and Tropes of speech: but these are less dangerous, because they profess their inconstancy; which the other do not.

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Spring 2015 course descriptions

PHI 2010 Introduction to Philosophy

PHI2010 is a general introduction to philosophy. It aims to introduce you to some fields and debates in philosophy; to show you something of philosophy’s history; and to develop skills in reading, discussing, and communicating that will be useful in later philosophy classes and elsewhere. The topics considered will include arguments for and against the existence of God; Thomas’s Hobbes’s Leviathan, a famous text in the history of political philosophy; and views and arguments about the meaning of life. This class meets the Humanities general education requirement. It also counts for 4000 words of the writing requirement. The main items of assessed work will be three papers and a final exam. There is one required book: Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, edited by A.P. Martinich and Brian Battiste (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview, 2011; ISBN 9781554810031). All other readings, both historical and contemporary, will be made available through the Canvas site for the class.

PHH5405 Modern Philosophy 1

In Modern 1 next semester I plan to focus largely on the philosophy of Leibniz. Before we get to Leibniz, we’ll spend a couple of week looking at the work of Descartes, reading parts of his Principles of Philosophy. After that, I plan to spend around four weeks looking at Leibniz’s 1686 ‘Discourse on Metaphysics’ and associated texts. That will take us almost halfway through the semester. For the second half of the semester, I want to look at a variety of later texts. Some of these are further systematic statements of Leibniz’s views (e.g., the ‘New System’, the ‘Monadology’), while others are engagements with other philosophers (e.g., the correspondences with Arnauld and Clarke). The main focus of these discussions will be on metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of language. However, we will also touch on issues in philosophy of religion, natural science, epistemology, and moral philosophy.

The great majority of the Leibniz readings will be from G.W. Leibniz, Philosophical Essays, translated by Ariew and Garber (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989). Others will be posted on the Canvas site for the class. The text of the Ariew and Garber volume is also available on the Past Masters database to which UF subscribes. The main pieces of assessed work for the class will be two essays and a final exam.

Parts of Hobbesian ideas

A couple of recent papers (one by Marcus Adams, the other by Arash Abizadeh) have me thinking about Hobbes’s views about ideas, about ideas as images, and about what the parts of ideas are.

Sometimes Hobbesian ideas have what we might call conceptual parts. One example is the discussion of resolution in De Corpore 6.4. The idea square is said to have parts including line and angle, and the idea gold is said to have parts including solid and heavy.

At other times, though, the parts of ideas seem more like the spatial parts of images. One example of this occurs when Hobbes talks of remembering, and the ways memories are less detailed than experiences, in Elements of Law 3.7. This he describes as involving a “missing of parts” and a lack of “distinction of parts”. So on the one hand you look at a city and see the buildings clearly distinguished, on the other you remember it as “a mass of building only”. But here the parts that are missing, or can’t be distinguished, are spatial parts of the image.

I don’t know what to make of this. But I think Hobbes is not alone, among philosophers with a more or less imagistic theory of ideas, in having these two sorts of parts in mind. So Hume usually thinks of ideas as having conceptual parts. But in Treatise 1.2, in the discussion of space, the coloured points into which our visual impressions and ideas are resolved are spatial rather than conceptual parts.

[Cross-posted from modsquad.)

A few of the Philosophical Letters

After putting together a small set of extracts from Margaret Cavendish’s Philosophical Letters for a class, I figured that others might find it interesting or useful, so I posted it online: Some of the Philosophical Letters.

That page presents five of the letters in part 1 of Cavendish’s book: letter 1 (which is introductory), letter 4 (the first letter on Hobbes, on the views about perception in ch.1 of Leviathan), letter 30 (the first letter on Descartes, on body and motion), letter 35 (on the alleged real distinction between mind and body), and letter 36 (on reason and non-human animals, discussing Descartes’s arguments in Discourse part 5). Together, they give examples of Cavendish’s criticisms of Descartes and Hobbes, while also introducing important aspects of her own views.

Some more textual details below the fold (as well as on the page itself):

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Cavendish and causal models

[Cross posted from http://philosophymodsquad.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/cavendish-and-causal-models/.]

I want to say a little bit about the way Margaret Cavendish thinks about causation.[1] A key aspect of that is an inversion, or set of inversions, of what other modern philosophers were up to. One prominent trend in modern philosophy was what is called mechanism. The central mechanist idea is that many natural phenomena are to be explained as the results of mechanical interactions. The shapes, sizes, and motions of the small parts of things explain, the mechanists argued, more than one might otherwise think. The mechanism of a clock provided a useful example: its apparently non-mechanical ability to tell the time is explained by the shapes, sizes, and motions of the parts inside. The mechanist project, so to speak, was to explain more and more of nature in this sort of way. Descartes provides an obvious example of someone taking this sort of approach. Hobbes provides an even better one, thinking that this sort of mechanical explanation applies to human cognition too.

That Hobbes and Descartes were wrong about things in this general area is one of the themes of the first part of Cavendish’s Philosophical Letters [PL].

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Fall 2014 course descriptions

PHH 3400 Modern Philosophy

PHH3400 is an introduction to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European philosophy. We will focus on four prominent works of the period: René Descartes’s 1641 Meditations on First Philosophy, G.W. Leibniz’s 1686 Discourse on Metaphysics, John Locke’s 1689 Essay concerning Human Understanding, and David Hume’s 1748 Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. We will also look, more briefly, at the views of some of their contemporaries, including Thomas Hobbes and Margaret Cavendish. The course will focus on the philosophers’ views in metaphysics and epistemology, but will also consider views in the physical sciences and in ethics.

Most readings for the class can be found in the adopted book, Ariew and Watkins (ed.), Modern Philosophy (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2009), and in the online Past Masters database, to which UF subscribes. Other readings will be made available via the e-Learning site for the class. Assessment will involve papers, a final exam, and some other smaller items. As well as meeting requirements for the Philosophy major and minor, PHH3400 counts towards the Humanities (H) and International (N) general education requirements.

UPDATE (6/6/14): I will be teaching PHH3400 in Fall 2014, but I will not be teaching the PHH4420 class previously described here.

Recent editions of works by Margaret Cavendish

I have attempted to list below all the editions of Cavendish’s works published in the last 20 years. This list does not include appearances of Cavendish’s works in anthologies; translations; texts in subscription databases; or editions in theses and dissertations.

Cavendish, Margaret. 1994. The Blazing World and Other Writings. Edited by Kate Lilley. London: Penguin.

—. 1996a. The Atomic Poems of Margaret (Lucas) Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, from her Poems, and Fancies, 1653, an electronic edition. Edited by Leigh Tillman Partington. Atlanta: Lewis H. Beck Center, Emory University. URL = http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/179qb

—. 1996b. Grounds of Natural Philosophy. West Cornwall, CT: Locust Hill Press. A facsimile reprint, with a short introduction by C. Michael.

—. 1997. Sociable Letters. Edited by James Fitzmaurice. New York: Garland.

—. 1999. The Convent of Pleasure and Other Plays. Edited by Anne Shaver. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

—. 2000. Paper Bodies: A Margaret Cavendish Reader. Edited by Sylvia Bowerbank and Sara Mendelson. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview.

—. 2001. Observations upon Experimental Philosophy. Edited by Eileen O’Neill. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

—. 2002. Bell in Campo; The Sociable Companions. Edited by Alexandra G. Bennett. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview.

—. 2003. Political Writings. Edited by Susan James. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The errors of the naturalists

Following on, in a way, from Lewis’s post, here’s something from Henry More’s Philosophical Poems.

This is that awfull cell where Naturalists

Brood deep opinion, as themselves conceit;

This Errours den where in a magick mist

Men hatch their own delusion and deceit,

And grasp vain shows. Here their bold brains they beat,

And dig full deep, as deep as Hyle‘s hell,

Unbare the root of life (O searching wit!)

But root of life in Hyles shade no’te dwell.

For God’s the root of all, as I elsewhere shall tell.

This is the stupid state of drooping soul,

That loves the body and false forms admires;

Slave to base sense, fierce ‘gainst reasons controul,

That still it self with lower lust bemires;

That nought believeth and much lesse desires

Things of that unseen world and inward life,

Nor unto height of purer truth aspires:

But cowardly declines the noble strife

‘Gainst vice and ignorance; so gets it no relief.

From “PSYCHATHANASIA OR The second part of the Song of the SOUL, Treating Of the Immortality of Souls, especially MANS SOUL”.

[Cross-posted from philosophymodsquad.wordpress.com.]

Do only minds express God?

[Cross-posted from modsquad.]

As I’ve been arguing in previous posts, Leibniz in 1686 offered an argument that [A] all individual substances express God. As he put the point in the essay “Primary Truths”, “all individual created substances are different expressions of the same universe and different expressions of the same universal cause, namely God” (my italics).

However Leibniz also said, towards the end of the “Discourse on Metaphysics”, that [B] “other substances express the world rather than God, while minds express God rather than the world” (DM 36). Something very similar is in the summary of DM35, and in at least two of Leibniz’s letters to Arnauld (A 2.2.60, 2.2.257). This appears to be in contradiction with [A]. It held that all individual substances express God, whereas this appears to be the view that only some individual substances, minds, express God.

The last four sections of the “Discourse” (34-7) are focused on the distinction between minds and other substances. Even here Leibniz continues to suggest, in places, that all substances express God. Thus in DM 35 we are told that “the whole nature, end, virtue, and function of substance is merely to express God and the universe”. But DM 36 (and indeed the summary of 35) appear to deny that all substances express God.

Setting aside for the moment the question of how Leibniz can claim both [A] and [B], what is it that leads him to assert [B]?

One might try (here’s me trying) to say that [B] is not to be taken literally, saying there’s not really a difference between what minds and other substances express, though there are related differences (about, e.g., whether this expression is accompanied by knowledge). Thus [B] would just be a misleading summary of that point. But, if nothing else, Leibniz says [B] repeatedly, and not just in a section summary, so this looks rather weak. What else might one say here?

Well, one theme in the  discussion is that minds are made in God’s image, in such a way that a mind “does not merely express the world but it also knows it and it governs itself after the fashion of God”. So minds have a sort of resemblance to God that the other substance lack. And for this reason we might say that minds express God, whereas other substances do not. (Many thanks here to Julia Jorati for her thoughts about these passages, especially this aspect of them.)

Back to the question of how this all fits together. One might reconcile [A] and [B] by saying that minds express God in two ways and for two reasons (because he is their cause, and because they resemble him by having intellect and will) but other substances only express him in one way (because he is their cause). But this still doesn’t fit terribly well with the claim that substances other than minds express the world rather than God.

Thinking about it in this way, there look to me to be two views about expression of God in the “Discourse”: the view seen in the later sections, on which minds resemble and thus express God, but other substances don’t do that so well, and merely represent the world; and the one of the earlier sections, on which both sorts of substance express both God and the world. I’m inclined to take this as evidence for something like Catherine Wilson’s reading of the “Discourse” as containing multiple systems that don’t fit perfectly well together.

Why think that substances express their causes?

[Cross-posted from modsquad.]

Leibniz thought (at least sometimes) that substances express God, because they express their causes. But why did he think that substances express their causes? In this post I briefly explore three ways in which we might try to understand his reasons for this.

Version 1: expression and knowledge

The late-1670s note “What is an idea?” (L 207-8, A 6.4.1369-71) provides some possible illumination. In the course of his discussion Leibniz notes that “every entire effect represents the whole cause, for I can always pass from knowledge of such an effect to knowledge of its cause” (L 208). So if we have knowledge of an “entire effect” then we will be able to acquire knowledge of the “whole cause” of that effect. That seems to suggest this argument.

  1. If one has knowledge of an (entire) effect, one can acquire knowledge of its (whole) cause.
  2. That could only be the case if the effect represented the cause. So
  3. All (entire) effects represent their (whole) causes.

Some details about ‘entire’ and ‘whole’ aside, this gets us close to the Discourse’s claim that effects express their causes. Moreover, premise 1 might gain some motivation from widespread views of knowledge and understanding that adhere to or approximate the slogan that to know is to know through causes. On the other hand, this seems not tell us why effects express their causes, even if it does show us that it must be the case that they do. Moreover, this is a text from several years before the Discourse, and it is not so clear that the details of Leibniz’s views of expression (in particular, expression of God) were all that stable over time.

Version 2: the cause-effect relation as a special case of expression

Dan Garber discusses expression in his Leibniz: Body, Substance, Monad (216-24). Among other things, he argues that “The cause/effect relation is a special case of the expression relation” (218) (basically because expression requires a “constant and fixed” relationship, and causation is such a relationship).

Thinking along this sort of line, we might construct another argument for the claim that effects express their causes.

  1. The relation of expression holds between two things, A and B, when there is a regular relation between them.
  2. The cause-effect relation is an regular relation between two things. So
  3. When two things stand in the cause-effect relation, the relation of expression also hold between them. So
  4. All effects express their causes.

Evaluating this is largely going to be a matter of deciding whether causation is indeed among the ‘regular’ relations that Leibniz says are required for expression. It doesn’t seem to be one of Leibniz’s usual examples. (Though he does, as in DM15, attempt to explain apparent causal relationships, as between two finite substances, in terms of expression.) On the other hand, the expression of God is not a usual example of expression either.

Version 3: expression and complete concepts

There are yet other Leibnizian reasons to think that an effect will express its cause, if one focuses on the Discourse. Indeed we can I think find a complete Leibnizian reason for the view in the Discourse itself.

Consider in particular the views expressed in DM 8 (about complete concepts, etc). There will be true claims of the form ‘S is P’ that relate any substance to God. Suppose for instance that ‘P’ is ‘ultimately an effect of God’. For any created substance this will be true. Thus, by the view about concepts explained in DM 8, ‘ultimately an effect of God’ will be part of the complete concept of every substance. And, indeed, there will be marks and traces in each substance corresponding to this predicate. So we can at least say that each substance represents God. Though we are some distance from talk of functions and isomorphisms, we are, given that expression more or less is representation, at a point at which we might see why Leibniz would say that all substances express God. Thus, we could understand the view that all substances express their causes as a consequence of other Leibnizian views about substances and language.

The importance of expressing causes might appear to be minimal on this reading: substances turn out to express causes simply because they express everything that stands in any relation to them (not just a regular one, whatever that is). On the other hand, as a reading of the Discourse, or or Leibniz’s views in 1686, this approach has the (slight?) advantage that the resources for explaining why Leibniz thought that substances express their causes are contained in the text itself. This being the reason also fits nicely with the view (that all individual substance express God) being present in Leibniz’s “Primary Truths” essay, which attempts to ground many Leibnizian views in his views about language. And it might also help explain why the expression of God is not a persistent feature of Leibniz’s statements about substances — as the DM8 view tends to disappear, this view of all substances as expressing God might naturally tend to disappear with it.