Tag Archives: more

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.]

Sympathy, spirits, and strings

[Cross posted from Modsquad.]

This post brings me back to my earlier themes of materialism and panpsychism. But it largely developed from my trying to understand one of Henry More’s examples. More believed there to be incorporeal substances, including human minds, ghosts, and a further spirit quite unlike the others, the spirit of nature. More’s central argument for the existence of a spirit of nature relied on a series of examples of phenomena that could (allegedly) only be explained with reference to such a spirit.

One such phenomenon was the sympathetic resonance of unison strings. Roughly speaking, given two strings that are tuned to the same note, if the first is sounded, the second will start to sound the note as well, even though it has not been plucked or otherwise touched itself. As More puts it, there is a power that “makes strings that be tuned Unisons (though on several Instruments) the one being touched, the other to tremble and move very sensibly, and to cast off a straw or pin or any such small thing laid upon it” (More 1659, 451).

More was far from the first philosopher to notice this phenomenon. The example occurs in such diverse places as Plotinus’s Enneads (4.4.40-4, quoted at Gouk 1999, 87), and Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum (Bacon 1627, 72). Hume later used it to help illustrate his psychological sort of sympathy. Of most immediate relevance, however, is a discussion in Marin Mersenne’s Harmonie universelle.

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Locke, Pasnau, and More

[Cross-posted from Modsquad.]

A lot has been said about Locke’s account of substance and substratum. Robert Pasnau has recently argued (in his book Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671) that “the substratum just is the ordinary substance” (160). Pasnau says that Locke’s statements about substance become less puzzling when we put them in “the proper historical context, that of the thin metaphysical substance of the Aristotelian tradition” (167, n.9). The “ordinary substance” and the the “thin metaphysical substance of the Aristotelian tradition” are thus identified. The ‘thin’ substance is introduced (101-2) as the union of form and matter, and is then the thing in which accidents inhere. Thin substance plus accidents is the ‘thick’ substance. The thin substance is not “nothing more than a bare substratum”, but is instead “quite rich in character” (107). And “Indeed, in a very real sense, the thin substance just is the cat or dog or stone” (107).

Pasnau says, indeed, that he hopes “that enough has been said to make it seem puzzling why anyone has ever taken seriously the idea of a bare substratum, the unknowable substance beneath the substance” (167). Indeed he suggests that “modern historians have misinterpreted the seventeenth century, and so arrived at a theory of substance that philosophers never would have dreamed of putting forth as their own idea” (167).

There are, however, other contexts here. Yes, we can look at Locke against the thin substance background, but we can also look at him against the background of some of Henry More’s discussions. For some of More’s discussions in The Immortality of the Soul appear to closely parallel the discussions in Essay 2.23. Thus axiom VIII of book I, chapter 2 of The Immortality of the Soul is “The Subject, or naked Essence or Substance of a thing, is utterly unconceivable to any of our Faculties” (More 1959, 10), paralleling the early sections of Essay 2.23, and chapter 3 involves arguing “That the notion of Spirit is altogether as intelligible as that of Body” (More 1659, 16), paralleling the later sections of Essay 2.23.

Moreover, in support of Axiom VIII, More argues as follows: “For the evidencing of this Truth, there needs nothing more then a silent appeal to a mans owne mind, if he doe not find it so; and that if he take away all AptitudesOperationsProperties and Modifications from a Subject, that his conception thereof vanishes into nothing, but into the Idea of a meer Undiversificated Substance; so that one Substance is not then distinguishable from another, but onely from Accidents or Modes, to which properly belongs no subsistence” (More 1659, pp.10-1).

Here the substance is indeed the thing distinguished frpm the accidents. But it appears not to be the thin substance of Pasnau’s discussion. On More’s understanding of the subject or substance, it is too thin, so to speak, to be the ordinary cat or horse, for the substance of the cat and the substance of the horse are not distinguishable. This notion of substance at least approaches that of a ‘bare substratum’. And that suggests, at least, that the idea of such a bare featureless underlying substance is not a mere invention of recent commentators, but something that Locke could have found being discussed in his own time and place.