Work in progress

Toland and Locke in the Leibniz-Burnett Correspondence. Leibniz’s correspondence with Thomas Burnett of Kemnay is probably best known for Leibniz’s attempts to communicate with Locke via Burnett. But Burnett was also, more generally a source of English intellectual news for Leibniz. As such, Burnett provided an important part of the context in which Locke was presented to and understood by Leibniz. This paper examines the Leibniz-Burnett correspondence, and argues against Jolley’s suggestion that “the context in which Leibniz learned about Locke was primarily a theological one”. That said, in thinking about Locke’s Reasonableness of Christianity, and his subsequent defenses of it, Leibniz does offer an argument against Locke’s book — but not one that’s closely related to Locke’s theological views, or to any accusation of Socinianism. The paper also considers, by way of contrast, the way Leibniz and Burnett talk about the more obviously controversial figure John Toland.

“Hobbes on the Signification of Moral Language”. Hobbes repeatedly expressed concerns about moral and political language, e.g., about the bad consequences of various uses and misuses of language. He did not simply focus on the consequences though. He also attempted to understand the problems, using the central semantic notion in his philosophy of language, signification. Hobbes, in both the Elements of Law and Leviathan, argues that a wide variety of terms – including ‘good’, ‘bad’, and the names of virtues and vices – have a double and inconstant signification. This paper explores and explains that theory of Hobbes’s. (In the course of the discussion, two other interpretations of Hobbes’s claims are discussed: Pettit’s discussion in terms of indexicals, and Alexandra’s in terms of sense and reference.) This phenomenon is, Hobbes thinks, pervasive in our use of moral and political language. Indeed he says his analysis applies to all “names of such things as affect us, that is, which please, and displease us” (Leviathan 4.24), which seems a very broad category indeed. This inconstancy of signification has considerable potential to cause confusion and conflict. Given those practical consequences, it is of some importance for Hobbes to find a solution to this problem. The paper examines several possible Hobbesian solutions to the problem. There is, however, reason to think that these suggested solutions cannot completely solve the problem. The paper concludes, then, by arguing that double and inconstant signification would always be a danger, even in a properly constituted Hobbesian commonwealth.

Margaret Cavendish, Environmental Ethics, and Panpsychism. Paper presented at the New Narratives in Philosophy conference at Duke University in April 2016.

Minds Everywhere: Margaret Cavendish’s Anti-Mechanist Materialism. This paper considers Margaret Cavendish’s distinctive anti-mechanist materialism, focusing on her 1664 Philosophical Letters, in which she discusses the views of Hobbes, Descartes, and More, among others. The paper examines Cavendish’s views about natural, material souls: the soul of nature, the souls of finite individuals, and the relation between them. After briefly digressing to look at Cavendish’s views about divine, supernatural souls, the paper then turns to the reasons for Cavendish’s disagreement with mechanist accounts. There are disagreements over the explanation of particular phenomena, but also a broader disagreement over what to take as one’s most basic causal model.