Tag Archives: toland

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.

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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?

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Materialism and panpsychism (Bayle and Toland edition)

[Cross-posted from Modsquad.]

In thinking about early modern materialism, I’ve repeatedly come across the view that materialism implies panpsychism. This claim has some current resonance, in that Galen Strawson has been arguing for a version of it. And it has several early modern sources. Thomas Hobbes worried that his materialist account of perception would lead him to a sort of panpsychism. Henry More argued that the changes Hobbes made to his view to avoid this did not solve the problem. Margaret Cavendish was a panpsychist materialist, and thought that non-panpsychist materialists, such as Hobbes aimed to be, could not adequately explain the workings of the world. There’s also, I believe, a version of the claim that materialism implies panpsychism in John Locke’s Essay (in 4.10.10). And there’s another version — the one I describe below — in Pierre Bayle’s Historical and Critical Dictionary. This being, at least, a curiously persistent theme, it seems to be worth some investigation.

In note C to the article “Dicaearchus”, Bayle argues against the view (Dicaearchus’s view, as he has it) that body can think. Bayle’s argument works in something like the following way.

  1. If thought belongs to body, then either (a) it does so as a modification, or (b) it does so essentially.
  2. But not (a), because a modification lost is replaced by another of the same kind (a colour by a colour, a degree of motion by another degree of motion) but when a body loses thought it is not replaced like this.
  3. And not (b), because then all bodies would have thought. So
  4. Thought does not belong to body.

If we accept (a), we are effectively pushed towards the view that the only possibly acceptable materialism is a panpsychist materialism. Of course, Bayle thought that was wrong too. But that’s another story. Why should we accept (a)? Bayle says the following.

Someone will tell me that feeling could be a modification of body. From which it would follow that matter, without losing anything essential to it, could cease to feel as soon as it was no longer enclosed in the organs of a living machine. I answer that this theory is absurd, for all the modalities of which we have any knowledge are of such a nature that they cease only to give way to another of the same kind. There is not figure destroyed but by another figure, nor is any color driven out but by another color (Pierre Bayle, Historical and Critical Dictionary, translated by Richard Popkin (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1991) 66).

He follows this with the discussion of some possible counterexamples, such as the notion that the replacement of heat by cold in a subject is the replacement of a thing of one kind by a thing of another. He finds these claimed counterexamples ineffective, and thus concludes that “the conversion of sensation into the absence of all sensation is impossible, for it would constitute a conversion of something real and positive into nothing” (Bayle 67).

After publishing the Dictionary, Bayle received a letter from John Toland, objecting to the argument of note C. Bayle then responded to Toland’s objections in note L, in the second edition of the Dictionary. Toland’s letter does not survive, but we can reconstruct Toland’s argument.

Bayle had effectively said that materialists about the human mind must adopt a sort of panpsychism, if they are to hold on to their materialism: if some body can think, all body can think. Toland argued that you can hold that some corporeal things think, without holding that all corporeal things think. The key to this, he argued, is to see that the relevant view is that appropriately organized corporeal systems think. These can think when the organization is in place, and cease to think when the organization is broken, without it being the case that every part of them can think.

Bayle responded in note L to Toland’s objection.

I maintain that something is being supposed that has hitherto been inconceivable to all mankind, if one supposes that the arrangement of the organs of the human body alone make a substance that had never thought to become a thinking one. All that the arrangement of the organs can accomplish is reducible, as in the case of a clock, to various different kinds of local motion. The difference can only consist in the greater or lesser degree of motion. But just as the arrangement of the several wheels that make up a clock would be of no use in producing the effects of this machine if each wheel, before being placed in a certain way, did not actually possess an impenetrable extension, a necessary cause of motion as soon as it is pushed with a certain degree of force; so I also say that the arrangement of the organs of the human body would be of no use to produce thought, if each organ before being put in its place was not actually endowed with the ability to think (Bayle 70).

Toland suggests the view that the thoughts of humans depend on the more obviously physical properties of their bodies. However, Bayle argues, motion and impenetrable extension (mechanical qualities, we might say) are not a suitable basis from which thought could emerge. Body would have to possess some further part of its nature, a suitable basis from which thought could emerge. And the only possible such basis is the ability to think. There is no other, fundamentally different feature (such as a fundamental ability to be part of a system that will think if appropriately organized), from which thought could emerge. The only way in which something corporeal could have the ability to think, Bayle believes, is if it fundamentally and essentially possessed the power of thinking. Neither a mechanical explanation of thought nor a pan-proto-psychism are acceptable. Contrary to Toland’s objection, the only consistent materialism is a sort of panpsychism. (Given the substance-attribute-mode framework of the discussion, it’s tempting to gloss this as ‘the only way to be a materialist is to be Spinoza’, but that’s maybe a step too far.)