[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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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?
Following up on this post, I’ve posted The Letters in the Philosophical Letters. This describes some features of Margaret Cavendish’s Philosophical Letters. For each of the letters in the Letters it gives a brief description of the letter’s topic, and says which authors and texts are referred to.