What does Cavendish’s supernatural soul do?

[Cross-posted from http://philosophymodsquad.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/supernatural-soul-2/.]

One of Margaret Cavendish’s longer discussions of the supernatural soul comes towards the end of part 2 of the Philosophical Letters [PL], where she discusses the work of Henry More. Unlike More, who believes in natural, extended, incorporeal spirits, we ought — Cavendish thinks — to distinguish between natural and supernatural souls. Natural souls are indeed extended, but are corporeal. Supernatural souls are something else entirely. But what are they? At times, Cavendish appears inclined to say that we simply cannot say what the supernatural soul is, only that it is. Thus PL 2.29 begins “Touching the State or Condition of the Supernatural and Divine Soul, both in, and after this life, I must crave your excuse that I can give no account of it”. And the remainder of that letter is partly occupied with listing topics that we should not meddle with, some of which are “Poetical Fancy”. Elsewhere she offers reasons why we cannot, at least naturally, know anything about this soul. But Cavendish is nevertheless sometimes more forthcoming about what the supernatural soul is like.

Some seemingly relevant passages — the passages featuring immaterial spirits in the Blazing World — contain her own fancies. These passages are certainly related to philosophical discussion, but we cannot simply read statements about Cavendish’s views about immaterial beings out of that fictional work. They would contradict things she clearly states elsewhere, in her more directly philosophical writings. For example, the immaterial spirits in the Blazing World talk about the “corporeal vehicles” that they require, but in PL 2.29 Cavendish lists the vehicles of souls as among the things to be taken “rather for Poetical Fictions, then Rational Probabilities; containing more Fancy, then Truth and Reason, whether they concern the divine or natural Soul”.

Leaving the fiction and fancy aside, however, Cavendish did venture some claims about what the supernatural soul is like.

Continue reading “What does Cavendish’s supernatural soul do?”

Cavendish and the divine, supernatural, immaterial soul

[Crossposted from http://philosophymodsquad.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/cavendish-and-the-supernatural-soul/.]

Despite her materialism about nature, and her related view that the human mind is corporeal, Margaret Cavendish thought that human beings also have a divine and supernatural soul, which is not corporeal. There are plenty of questions one might ask about this, but for now I just want to ask when she thought this, and whether and why she changed her mind about the issue.

The view that there is such a soul is most prominent in two works of the 1660s in which Cavendish engages with the work of other philosophers, the Philosophical Letters (1664) and the Observations upon Experimental Philosophy (1666). The first engages with the work of Descartes, Hobbes, More, J.B. van Helmont, and others. The Observations engages with, among others, experimental philosophers such as Hooke and Power.

In the Letters we learn that the natural mind is material: “For the Natural Mind is not less material then the body, onely the Matter of the Mind is much purer and subtiller then the Matter of the Body. And thus there is nothing in Nature but what is material” (PL 2.6, 149). However, there is also another human soul: a “Divine Soul, which is not subject to natural imperfections, and corporeal errors, being not made by Nature, but a supernatural and divine gift of the Omnipotent God, who surely will not give any thing that is not perfect” (PL 2.26, 209-10). Similarly in the Observations: “The spiritual or divine soul in man is not natural, but supernatural, and has also a supernatural way of residing in man’s body; for place belongs only to bodies, and a spirit being bodiless, has no need of a bodily place (p. 79).

There are, as I said, plenty of questions about this. But for now I just want to notice that Cavendish seems not to always to have said this. To see this, one can look at another group of her works, a series of four books — or, we might say, four versions of the same book — in which she sets out her own views in natural philosophy.

Continue reading “Cavendish and the divine, supernatural, immaterial soul”

Cavendish, strings, and sympathy

At one point, ‘sympathy’ seems to have been (largely?) a name for a physical phenomenon, and a certain sort of explanation of that phenomenon (see this earlier post on More and Mersenne). Over time, ‘sympathy’ seems to have become more exclusively used to describe a psychological phenomenon (e.g., Hume, Smith). I’m curious about how sympathy moved from being one thing to the other. Even Hume uses an ancient example of physical sympathy to illustrate the psychological sort: “As in strings equally wound up, the motion of one communicates itself to the rest; so all the affections readily pass from one person to another, and beget correspondent movements in every human creature” (Treatise 3.3.1.7). Well before Hume, however, we seem to find find Margaret Cavendish, in an early poem, explicitly making the connection between the two sorts of sympathy.

According as the Notes in Musicke agree with the Motions of the Heart, or Braine, Such Passions are produced thereby.

IN Musicke, if the Eighths tun’d Equall are,
If one be strucke, the other seemes to jarre.
So the Heart-strings, if equally be stretch’d,
To those of Musick, Love from thence is fetch’d.
For when one’s strucke, the other moves just so,
And with Delight as evenly doth go.

(Margaret Cavendish, Poems and Fancies (London, 1653), p.40. )

Toland and testimony

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.

Continue reading “Toland and testimony”

Cudworth and basic obligations

In my previous post, I looked at Cudworth’s argument that good and evil (and other moral features) cannot arise from decision alone, for something good cannot simply be made good by decision, without being also given the underlying nature of a good thing. Of course, his opponents have some possible responses open to them. Not all obligations, they might well argue, arise from the natures of the things we’re obliged to do. For instance, if I promise to do X, there may be nothing in X considered alone that makes it obligatory. But it nevertheless is obligatory, just because I promised to do it.

Cudworth does respond to that argument. He concedes something to the objection, but thinks that enough remains of his argument to show that Hobbes et al are mistaken.

For though it will be objected here, that when God, or civil powers command a thing to be done, that was not before obligatory or unlawful … the thing willed or commanded doth forthwith become obligatory … And therefore if all good and evil, just and unjust be not the creatures of mere will (as many assert) yet at least positive things must needs owe all their morality, their good and evil, to mere will without nature (TEIM 18).

Continue reading “Cudworth and basic obligations”

Cudworth, tautologies, and natures

Prompted by Lewis’s mention of Cudworth, a post or two on Cudworth’s most famous argument.

Book 1 of Cudworth’s Treatise Concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality [TEIM] contains a relatively short, and apparently free-standing, argument that morality cannot arise merely from decisions, either human or divine. Hobbes is among Cudworth’s targets, but so are Descartes and others. But some commentators have thought the the crucial passage in Cudworth’s text fails to do what he thinks it does, because it is merely tautological. Thus Zagorin (1992, 131-2): “As John Tulloch pointed out in his classic study of the Cambridge Platonists, Cudworth failed to realize that he was guilty of a tautology” (cf. Passmore 1990, 41-2).

The central passage in Cudworth’s argument is the following:

Continue reading “Cudworth, tautologies, and natures”

Antarctic sympathy

While looking a little more at early modern texts that talk about sympathy, I came across this (which is apparently distinguished by being the earliest text returned in a search for ‘sympathy’ and its variants in Early English Books Online.)

Likewise néere to this Ilande is founde a kynde of fish, and also vpon the coaste of America very daungerous, also much feared and redoubted of the wilde men, for that she is a rauening fish, and as daungerous as a Lyon or a Woulfe famished: this fish is named Houperou, in their language, and eateth other fish in the water, excepting one that is as greate as a little Carpe the which foloweth him alwayes, as if there were some Sympathia or secrete loue betwene them, or else he foloweth him for to be preserued and kept sure from other fishes.

That comes from pp.117-8 of André Thevet’s The new found worlde, or Antarctike wherin is contained wonderful and strange things… (London, 1568), an English translation of his 1557 Les Singularitez de la France antarctique (EEBO-TCP record). The ‘Antarctike’ here is not the antarctic continent, but France Antarctique, a sixteenth-century French colony in Brazil.

There’s a short biography of Thevet on the English-language Wikipedia, and a rather longer one on the French-language WIkipedia, which also has an article on Les Singularitez de la France antarctique. One can also download scans of the French edition of the book from Gallica, and from a UVa site.

Swiftian sympathy

A sort of follow-up to this post on explanations that invoke sympathy. From Swift’s Tale of a Tub:

Let us therefore now conjecture how it comes to pass that none of these great prescribers do ever fail providing themselves and their notions with a number of implicit disciples, and I think the reason is easy to be assigned, for there is a peculiar string in the harmony of human understanding, which in several individuals is exactly of the same tuning.  This, if you can dexterously screw up to its right key, and then strike gently upon it whenever you have the good fortune to light among those of the same pitch, they will by a secret necessary sympathy strike exactly at the same time.  And in this one circumstance lies all the skill or luck of the matter; for, if you chance to jar the string among those who are either above or below your own height, instead of subscribing to your doctrine, they will tie you fast, call you mad, and feed you with bread and water.  It is therefore a point of the nicest conduct to distinguish and adapt this noble talent with respect to the differences of persons and of times.

Leibniz and Burnett and Toland and Bach

Some non-expert meanderings…

Reading Eric Silbin’s The Cello Suites, a book about J.S. Bach, his cello suites, and Pablo Casals, I came across this passage: “When Bach was hired at Cöthen in 1717, the court Capelle consisted of sixteen musicians, the core of whom came from the disbanded Berlin Capelle, courtesy of rising Prussian militarism” (p.63). That was the Capelle that was in Berlin under Frederick I, and disbanded after he died in 1713. Now Frederick I had been married to Sophie Charlotte, who had died in 1705. And Sophie Charlotte is somewhat familiar from the history of modern philosophy, at least because of her connections with Leibniz.[1] Other philosophically engaged figures had connections here too. For example, John Toland travelled there, and described the court in a book, and Leibniz’s correspondent Thomas Burnett, about whom I’ve been writing, had been there too. Thus, for example, Burnett wrote to Catherine Trotter from Berlin on 5 December 1704:

I have no delight in the hearing or seeing any woman, since I came abroad, like the queen, who, never, I believe, spoke, but with satisfaction to the hearer. Her concern for me is so great, that I am ashamed therof. It hath made me many open flatterers, and it may be hidden enemies.[2]

So these philosophical types had been at the court in Berlin. And some of Bach’s musicians in Cöthen had also been at the court in Berlin. So, I wondered, were any of those musicians who moved to Cöthen in 1713 among the musicians who might have been heard by the philosophers in Berlin?

Continue reading “Leibniz and Burnett and Toland and Bach”

Burnett, on maps

I’ve been thinking about the correspondence of Thomas Burnett of Kemnay, particularly his correspondence with Leibniz (thus this earlier post and indeed this one).[1] Here I’d like to think a little bit about Burnett’s travels, and the geographical distribution of the correspondence. For now I’d like to focus on correspondence with Leibniz, and on the years 1695 to 1705.[2]

Figure 1 shows what might seem to be the three most important geographical locations involved. It shows Kemnay (where Burnett was from), London (where he spent a good deal of time) and Hanover (where Leibniz was, for the most part).

Continue reading “Burnett, on maps”