A short interview on the APA blog, about teaching early modern philosophy.
I have added a new file to my Cavendish page: Philosophical Letters, 1.1-29 (pdf). This is a modernized version of the early part of Margaret Cavendish’s 1664 Philosophical Letters: the front matter, and the first 29 letters in part 1. Most of those letters (4-29) discuss the work of Thomas Hobbes. The text has been modernized in its spelling, use of capital letters, and use of italics. Few changes have been made to Cavendish’s punctuation, the main one being to add apostrophes indicating possession.
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 class will be divided into three sections. The first will look at the philosophy of religion, focusing on arguments for and against the existence of God. The second section will consider topics related to the meaning of life. We will discuss how such things as pleasure, morality, love, and work relate to the value and meaning of life as a whole. The third section will look at some famous relevant works from the history of philosophy: some dialogues of Plato’s, and Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan.
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, a final exam, and regular in-class clicker quizzes.
There is one required book: Alter and Howell, The God Dialogues (Oxford University Press, 2010), ISBN 9780195395594. All other readings will be made available on Canvas.
We will use physical i>clicker clickers in the class. Any of the i>clicker, i>clicker+, or i>clicker 2 remotes should be appropriate (see https://classrooms.at.ufl.edu/classroom-technology/iclicker-response-system/). You may not use software clickers, such as the phone app, in this class.
Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
Shepherd’s An Essay upon the Relation of Cause and Effect
My previous post asked some questions about Spinoza’s notion of expression. I’m particularly interested in – puzzled by, really – the expression done by attributes and modes.
In that post, I asked whether it helped to think of Spinoza’s talk of expression using the model provided by Leibniz’s claim that “every effect expresses its cause” (Discourse on Metaphysics 28). Though this might make some sense of the expression done by modes, it seems less helpful when we look at the expression done by attributes. So here I turn to a different model of expression, one suggested by the Ethics itself. Spinoza says that definitions express, that words express, and that people express using words. Can we understand the expression done by attributes and modes using this more or less linguistic model? As with the causal model, there are problems and puzzles, but there also seem to be some possibilities.
In this linguistic sense of expression, expression is representation or description. Now, the metaphysical relation of expression between attribute and essence, even though we don’t really know what it is, might seem to be nothing like that. An attribute is not, you might say, like a definition or a thought or a word – not like the sort of thing that expresses in this way.
However, the view that attributes are representations of the essence of God does seem to make some sense on a subjective interpretation of the attributes. If attributes just are thoughts by which we think about the essence of God, their expression of that essence could be quite like the expression involved in the linguistic cases. (Particularly if we think of expression as being description – the subjectively understood attributes would describe the essence of God as being a certain way.) Now, lots of people don’t like subjective interpretations of the attributes. But thinking this way would allow us to unify some of the diverse-seeming uses of ‘express’ in the Ethics. For attribute expression and linguistic expression would turn out to be the same thing.
(For all the problems alleged with subjective interpretations of the attributes – and I make no reply to those points here – one ought at least to acknowledge that these interpretations have a strong and basic appeal, simply because of the way Spinoza himself chose to define ‘attribute’.)
What, however, to say about the expression done by modes? Can we think of this as a sort of description or representation, and thus make sense of it too on a linguistic model? After all, it would be good to have a unified account of metaphysical expression, something the causal model did not provide.
This does seem difficult, though there are perhaps things one might say. One might think of a body, a finite extended thing, as a sort of low grade, degenerate representation of God considered as a substance that possesses the attribute of extension. Likewise one might think of a mind, a finite thinking thing, as a sort of low grade, degenerate representation of God considered as as a substance that possesses the attribute of thought. This is to take particular things as being (in an attenuated sense) images of God, because of their relation to the attributes and essence of God. Being images in this way is not exactly like representing as language does. But it is at least a sort of representation.
Writing about Leibniz on expression got me thinking about other early modern talk about expression, and in particular about Spinoza, who talks several times in his Ethics about things expressing others. Some of this expressing involves language, but other cases seem not to. Thus both attributes and modes are said to express things. For example, 1p6 talks of the infinite attributes of God, “each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence”. Modes, meanwhile, are also said to express God’s essence (though in a certain way, related to a certain attribute). Thus, Spinoza says in 2d1 that “By ‘body’ I understand a mode that expresses in a definite and determinate way God’s essence in so far as he is considered as an extended thing”, and in 2p1d that “Individual thoughts, or this and that thought, are modes expressing the nature of God in a definite and determinate way”. There is also related language in which attributes are said to be expressed in modes (see 3p6d, and perhaps 1p25c).
My initial question is relatively simple: what does Spinoza mean when he talks of attributes and modes expressing in these ways? I consider this by presenting at two different possible models of expression, and asking whether the expression of attributes and modes fits either model.
Two models of expression
- A causal model of expression. One Leibnizian idea about expression is that “every effect expresses its cause” (Discourse on Metaphysics 28). This helps, I think, understand some otherwise puzzling things Leibniz says about substances expressing God. Might it also help us in understanding what Spinoza says about attributes and modes expressing the essence of God?
- A linguistic model of expression. At various points in the Ethics, definitions are said to express (1p8s2, 1p16p), words are said to express (Explication of 2d3), and people are said to express using words (2p47s; see also 2p40). In these cases, expression seems to be a descriptive or representational relation. These are not all the same case, but they are plausibly related, and use a sense of ‘expression’ we might at least recognize. Could something like this sort of expression be a good model for the metaphysical cases?
Does the causal model help?
Suppose we start with the causal model, and with the expression done by modes. If Spinoza held the causal view of expression, the reason why he would say, e.g., that some particular body expressed “God’s essence in so far as he is considered as an extended thing” would be that God’s essence was the cause of that particular body. Now that might appear to be wrong, because the causal interactions of bodies are with other bodies. However, Spinoza does say that God causes modes: e.g., 1p18 says God is the immanent cause of all things. So we might think of Spinoza as saying that modes express their immanent cause, which is God, because God is their cause. So far, this is consistent with the causal model.
What about attributes though? Can we think of Spinoza’s attributes as expressing God’s essence, which is their cause? (One might imagine a causal hierarchy from essence to attribute to mode, with the things lower down on the hierarchy expressing those higher up.)
Someone might deny that Spinoza could have though this, by arguing that there is not enough of a distinction between the essence and the attributes for one to be the cause of the other – e.g., by identifying the essence with the collection of the attributes. Suppose for now though that there is enough of a distinction between essence and attributes, such that they could stand in a causal relation. Is there any evidence at all that Spinoza thought they did?
I suppose one might try and run an argument from God being the immanent cause of all things. If attributes are things, then they are caused by God. But it seems too easy to deny that attributes are things in the relevant sense. 1p18 comes soon after the claim that “nothing exists except substance and modes” (1p15d). In general, it is hard to see how to sustain the view that the essence of substance is the cause of its attributes. At least, that seems an obvious sticking point for using the causal model.
Next time, something on using the linguistic model.
Modern Philosophy (PHH3400)
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. 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.
Ethics: Hume & Smith (PHH4420)
This course will examine the moral philosophy of David Hume and Adam Smith. It will focus on Hume’s Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751) and Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). We will also look briefly at some earlier views, such as those of Thomas Hobbes, to help us understand the context in which Hume and Smith were writing.
The themes discussed will include the roles of reason and emotion in ethics; whether we have a moral sense, and what such a thing might be; the view that moral judgments involve thought about an impartial spectator; and some early suggestions of utilitarian theories.
A main aim of this course is that you come to know something about the views and arguments of Hume and Smith. Another is to develop a set of skills that are useful in thinking about the history of modern philosophy, philosophy more generally, and other issues. These include close reading, critical thinking, and the ability to write critically and carefully. Most classes will be structured around discussions of primary texts, and others around discussions of relevant works of secondary literature.
Hobbes on the state of nature:
In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short (Leviathan, chapter 13).
Thucydides on the early state of Greece, something that Hobbes translated:
It appears, for example, that the country now called Hellas had no settled population in ancient times; instead there was a series of migrations, as the various tribes, being under the constant pressure of invaders who were stronger than they were, were always prepared to abandon their own territory. There was no commerce, and no safe communication either by land or sea; the use they made of their land was limited to the production of necessities; they had no surplus left over for capital, and no regular system of agriculture, since they lacked the protection of fortifications and at any moment an invade might appear and take their land away from them (1.2, Warner’s translation).
For discussion, see James Jan Sullivan in A Handbook to the Reception of Thucydides.
[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. 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].
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.