Tag Archives: cavendish

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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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.

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.

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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.

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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. )