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Master-class: Isaac Newton’s Philosophical Projects

A master-class at the Institute for Research in the Humanities, University of Bucharest:


Isaac Newton’s Philosophical Projects

6th-11th October 2015


The purpose of this master-class is to discuss and to set in context some of Newton’s philosophical, scientific and theological projects. It aims to address a number of well-known (and difficult) questions in a new context, by setting them comparatively against the natural philosophical and theological background of early modern thought. By bringing together a group of experts on various aspects of Newton’s thought with experts on Descartes, Bacon and Leibniz, the master-class facilitates interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary perspectives

The activities of the master-class will consist of lectures, reading groups and seminars, as well as more informal activities (tutorials, and discussions). The master-class will be set within the interdisciplinary environment of the Institute of Research in the Humanities, University of Bucharest. It aims to bring together 15 students (post-docs and graduate students) coming from different fields and willing to spend 5 days working together within the premises of the Institute, and under the supervision of leading experts.


Invited speakers:

Rob Illiffe (Sussex), Niccolo Guicciardini (Bergamo), Andrew Janiak (Duke University)



Dana Jalobeanu, Kirsten Walsh


To participate:

There is no participation cost, but there are limited places available.  In order to apply for the master-class send a CV and a letter of intention to Dana Jalobeanu ( by August 15, 2015. The final list of participants will be announced on the web-site of the institute by August 30, 2015. If you want to present a short paper in the master-class, please send an extended abstract (no longer than 800 words).


More details:





Workshop: The Experimental Philosophy, the Mechanical Philosophy, and the Scientific Revolution

A one-day workshop at the Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University:

The Experimental Philosophy, the Mechanical Philosophy, and the Scientific Revolution

9:30am-5:30pm, Thursday 5th June 2014


The Scientific Revolution is often presented as involving the replacement of an Aristotelian world view by the Mechanical Philosophy. Another common theme is that central to the Scientific Revolution is a special emphasis on empirical observation and experiment as providing the basis for science, a theme often captured by the phrase ‘The Experimental Philosophy’. In the seventeenth century and thereafter, the terms ‘The Mechanical Philosophy’ and ‘The Experimental Philosophy’ were sometimes taken to be synonymous. If the Mechanical Philosophy is interpreted as an encouragement to search for explanations that appeal to mechanisms, as in the workings of a clock, then a close link with experiment seems plausible. On the other hand, if that philosophy is understood as a change in the ultimate ontology of the material world, with the replacement of Aristotelian forms by nothing other than moving corpuscles of matter possessing shape and size, then a link with experiment is less plausible. The aim of this workshop is to explore the range of theses that were involved in the Mechanical and Experimental Philosophies, and to explore the relationship between them.


Speakers and titles:

Prof. Alan F. Chalmers (University of Sydney) ‘Qualitative Novelty in Seventeenth-Century Science: Hydrostatics from Stevin to Pascal’.

Prof. Robert Iliffe (University of Sussex) Title to be confirmed

Prof. David M. Knight (Durham University) ‘Clockwork, Chemistry and the Scientific Revolution’.

Mr. Thomas Rossetter (Durham University) ‘No Mechanism for Miracles: John Keill vs. the World Makers’.

Dr. Sophie Weeks (University of York) ‘Experiment and Matter Theory in the Work of Francis Bacon’.

Prof. David Wootton (University of York) ‘In Defence of the Mechanical Philosophy’.


The workshop is open to all but there are limited places available so please email to reserve a place.

There will be a registration fee of £10 to cover lunch and refreshments.

Workshop: Early Eighteenth-century Experimental Philosophy in the Dutch Republic


The VUB’s Centre for Logic and Philosophy of Science and the National Committee for Logic, History and Philosophy of Science are proud to announce the international workshop:

Early Eighteenth-century Experimental Philosophy in the Dutch Republic.


Date: 7 July 2014

Venue: The Royal Academies for Science and the Arts of Belgium, Rubenszaal

Organizers: Steffen Ducheyne and Jip van Besouw



8.15-8.40 a.m.: Welcome and coffee

8.40-8.45 a.m.: Introduction by Steffen Ducheyne (Free University Brussels)

8.45-9.30 a.m.: Lecture by Gerhard Wiesenfeldt (University of Melbourne): ‘Local traditions in the making of Dutch Newtonianism’

9.30-10.15 a.m.: Lecture by F. J. Dijksterhuis (University of Twente): ‘German traces in Dutch experimental philosophy’

10.15-10.45 a.m.: Coffee break

10.45-11.30 a.m.: Lecture by Steffen Ducheyne (Free University Brussels) ‘Aspects of Petrus van Musschenbroek’s appropriation of Newton’s natural-philosophical methodology’

11.30-12.00 a.m.: Presentation by Jip van Besouw (Free University Brussels) of the FWO-funded research project ‘In the footsteps of Isaac Newton? W. J. ’s Gravesande’s scientific methodology’

12.00-13.45 p.m.: Lunch break

13.45-14.30 p.m.: Lecture by Anne-Lise Rey (Université de Lille I): ‘Probability, moral certainty and evidence in Willem ’s Gravesande’s natural philosophy’

14.30-15.15 p.m.: Lecture by Tammy Nyden (Grinnell College, Iowa) ‘Experiment’s journey at Leiden: From compromise to justified scientific method’

15.15-15.45 p.m.: Coffee break

15.45-16.30 p.m.: Lecture by Ad Maas and Tiemen Cocquyt (Boerhaave Museum, Leiden): ‘The truth in a layer of clay: A replication of ’s Gravesande’s vis viva experiment’

16.30-17.00 p.m.: Concluding remarks by Eric Jorink (Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands and Leiden University)


Abstracts: download PDF here.

Attendance is free, but registration is mandatory. To register please send an e-mail to before 1 July.

Workshop: Mathematics and methodology from Newton to Euler

University of Sydney

20 March, 2014




  • 9.15 Katherine Dunlop (Texas): ‘Christian Wolff on Newtonianism and Exact Science’
  • 10.45 Coffee
  • 11.00 Peter Anstey (Sydney): ‘From scientific syllogisms to mathematical certainty’
  • 12.30 Lunch
  • 2.00 Kirsten Walsh (Otago): ‘Newton’s method’
  • 3.30 Stephen Gaukroger (Sydney):  ‘D’Alembert, Euler and mid-18th century rational mechanics: what mechanics does not tell us about the world’
  • 5.00 Wind up


Location: Common Room 822, Level 8, Brennan MacCallum Building

Contact:    Prof Peter Anstey

Phone:       61 2 9351 2477


RSVP:      Here

Looking back: PATS workshop on Interdisciplinarity

Juan Gomez writes…

A few weeks ago the Early Modern Thought Research Theme here at Otago hosted a colloquium on “Practical Knowledges and Skill in Early Modern England.” After two days of great talks postgraduate students were able to take part in an ANZAMEMS sponsored workshop on “Interdisciplinarity in Medieval and Early Modern Research.” I took part in the workshop and in today’s post I want to share my thoughts on what turned out to be an outstanding event.

The main purpose of the workshop was to give postgraduate students tools to enhance current and future research projects. With this in mind the speakers shared how they had each in their own way been engaged with this interdisciplinary aspect of the Early Modern period. The talks were followed by practical sessions where we had the opportunity to think about and develop our research projects from an interdisciplinary perspective. The whole workshop was a huge success and I am sure I am not the only one that now has a better idea of how beneficial it is for research in the early modern period to look at/borrow from/collaborate with other disciplines.

Of special interest to me were the talks given by Peter Harrison on “Disciplinary boundaries in intellectual history: science, religion & philosophy” and Andrew Bradstock on “Religious language in early modern texts.” Harrison’s talk was a very clear and nice example of the interdisciplinary nature of the Early Modern period. It highlighted how the three disciplines that to our modern eyes seem very distinct drew on each other constantly. As readers of this blog know, I have done some research on George Turnbull’s work on Jesus Christ and miracles that exemplify this interaction between science, religion, and philosophy in the eighteenth century.

Andrew Bradstock’s talk made me think about how my research on Turnbull can me tremendously enhanced by drawing on the purely religious context of the time. For example,Turnbull’s Principles of Christian Philosophy draws heavily on passages from the bible, some of them that I am not that familiar with or might not know it’s significance at the time. By working with someone working on the history of religion or acquiring knowledge of it I can add another layer to my research that will enrich our understanding of Turnbull’s thought.

The workshop made it clear that crossing the boundaries of a particular discipline is not only fruitful but even necessary when engaged in early modern research. Given that there is a natural characteristic of interdisciplinarity to the early modern period we must leave the comfort zone of our own discipline if we want to carry out our research projects properly. Most of us have actually done this without noticing that we are engaged in interdisciplinary research. The workshop brought this to my attention and I started thinking about the many ways in which my research would have been improved if I had consciously made an effort to enrich my understanding of any given topic by allowing myself to explore what other disciplines have to offer. And this enrichment of knowledge works both ways; there are projects stationed in other disciplines that would be enhanced by what I have to offer as a researcher from a specific discipline, with a specific skill set.

This is not to say that early modern research cannot be carried out other than in an interdisciplinary manner, but rather that through interdisciplinarity we can enhance tremendously the research projects we are all developing from our specific discipline. Borrowing a phrase by Michael Cop at the Early Modern at Otago blog, the workshop showed that through interdisciplinarity “the future of early modern and medieval research looks promising indeed.”

CFP: Creative Experiments

From the Zeta Books website:

The Journal of Early Modern Studies is seeking contributions for its second issue (Spring 2013). It will be a special issue, devoted to the theme:

Creative experiments:
Heuristic and Exploratory Experimentation in Early Modern Science

Editor: Dana Jalobeanu

The past decade has seen a renewed interest in multiple aspects of early modern experimentation: in the cognitive, psychological and social aspects of experiments, in their heuristic and exploratory value and in the complex inter-relations between experience, observation and experiment. Meanwhile, comparatively little has been done towards a more detailed, contextual and specific study of what might be described, a bit anachronistically, as the methodology of early modern experimentation, i.e. the ways in which philosophers, naturalists, promoters of mixed mathematics and artisans put experiments together and reflected on the capacity of experiments to extend, refine and test hypotheses, on the limits of experimental activity and on the heuristic power of experimentation. So far, the sustained interest in the role played by experiments in early modern science has usually centered on ‘evidence’- related problems. This line of investigation favored examination of the experimental results but neglected the “methodology” that brought about the results in the first place. It has also neglected the more creative and exploratory roles that experiments could and did play in the works of sixteenth and seventeenth century explorers of nature.

This special issue of the Journal of Early Modern Studies aims to bring together articles devoted to the investigation of particular cases of early modern experiments or early modern discussions of experimental methodology. We aim to put together a selection of interesting and perhaps relevant case studies that would further what might prove to be an interesting line of research, namely the investigation of the heuristic, analogical and creative role of early modern experiments.

JEMS is an interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal of intellectual history, dedicated to the exploration of the interactions between philosophy, science and religion in Early Modern Europe. It is edited by the Research Centre “Foundations of Modern Thought”, University of Bucharest, and published and distributed by Zeta Books. For further information on JEMS, please visit

We are seeking for articles no longer than 10,000 words, in English or French, with an abstract and key-words in English. Please send your contribution by the 1st of October 2012 to

Workshop: Letters by Early Modern Philosophers

The workshop is part of the 13th International Conference of the International Society for the Study of European Ideas which will take place in Cyprus on 2-6 July 2012.

The workshop focuses on letters written in the seventeenth century on themes at the border between art, science, and philosophy. A presentation of the workshop topic can be found here.

Abstracts of up to 500 words should be sent to the workshop organiser, Filip Buyse, at

A new Hume find

Peter Anstey writes…

While the ‘Experimental Philosophy: Old and New’ exhibition was under construction, the Special Collections Librarian at Otago, Dr Donald Kerr, happened to notice that the copy of George Berkeley’s An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision (2nd edn, 1709) that we were about to display, had the bookplate of David Hume Esquire. It has long been known that this book was in the library of the philosopher David Hume’s nephew Baron David Hume, but until now its whereabouts have been unknown. We are very pleased to announce, therefore, that it is in the Hewitson Library of Knox College at the University of Otago, New Zealand (for full bibliographic details see the online exhibition).

The question naturally arises: did the book belong to the philosopher or the Baron? What complicates matters is that David Hume the philosopher left his library to his nephew of the same name and that the latter also used a David Hume bookplate.

Now the David Hume bookplate exists in two states, A and B. They are easily distinguished because State A has a more elongated calligraphic hood on the second stem of the letter ‘H’ than that of State B. Brian Hillyard and David Fate Norton have pointed out (The Book Collector, 40 [1991], 539–45) that all of the thirteen items that they have examined with State A are on laid paper and are in books that predate the death of David Hume the philosopher. This is not the case for books bearing the State B bookplate. They propose the plausible hypothesis that all books bearing the bookplate in State A belonged to Hume the philosopher. Happily, we can report that the bookplate that here at Otago is State A on laid paper. It is almost certain, therefore, that this copy of George Berkeley’s New Theory of Vision belonged to the philosopher David Hume.

The provenance of the book provides important additional evidence that Hume was familiar with Berkeley’s writings, something that was famously denied by the historian of philosophy Richard Popkin in 1959. Popkin claimed that ‘there is no actual evidence that Hume was seriously concerned about Berkeley’s views’. He was subsequently proven wrong and retracted his claim. However, until now there has been no concrete evidence that Hume owned a copy of a work by Berkeley, let alone one as important as the New Theory of Vision.

This volume came into the possession of the Hewitson Library in 1948. Its title page bears a stamp from the ‘Presbyterian Church of Otago & Southland Theological Library, Dunedin’. So far attempts to ascertain which other books were in this theological library and when and how it arrived in New Zealand have proven fruitless. (Though the copy of William Whiston’s A New Theory of the Earth, 1722 on display bears the same stamp.) If any reader can supply further leads on these matters we would be most grateful. Meanwhile please take time to examine the images of the bookplate and title page, which are included in our online exhibition available here.

Experimental Philosophy: Old and New

Over the last few months, we have been working with Dr Donald Kerr, the Special Collections Librarian at the University of Otago, to prepare a rare book exhibition on the history of experimental philosophy.  We have brought together classic works of the past and cutting-edge books of the present, to illustrate the theme of experimental philosophy as it was understood and practised 350 years ago and as it is understood today.

Our exhibition, ‘Experimental Philosophy: Old and New’, was launched a few weeks ago, to coincide with the annual conference of the Australasian Association of Philosophy (AAP).  It will run until 23 September 2011, so if you are coming to Dunedin, be sure to stop by and see it.

The poster for our exhibition

For those who cannot come to Dunedin, we are thrilled to announce the launch of the online version of our exhibition.  Notable items on display include a second edition of Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1713), Francis Bacon’s Of the Advancement Learning (1640), poet Abraham Cowley’s ‘A Proposition for the Advancement of Experimental Philosophy’ (1668), and an exciting new discovery* concerning the philosopher David Hume!

A couple of months ago, I requested your help: we needed an image for our exhibition poster.  We received some excellent feedback – so thank you everyone!  We eventually settled on a modified version of the frontispiece to 1640 translation of Bacon’s ‘De Augmentis Scientiarum’.

We hope you enjoy our exhibition!


* On Monday Peter Anstey will tell us all about this new discovery regarding Hume.

Early Modern Philosophy at the AAP

The Annual Conference of the Australasian Association of Philosophy will start in 10 days and the abstracts have just been published. We were very pleased to see that there are plenty of papers on early modern philosophy. We are re-posting the abstracts below.

As you will see, Juan, Kirsten, Peter, and I are presenting papers on early modern x-phi and the origins of empiricism. Come and say hi if you’re attending the conference. If you aren’t, but would like to read our papers, let us know and we’ll be happy to send you a draft. Our email addresses are listed here. We’d love to hear your feedback.

Peter Anstey, The Origins of Early Modern Experimental Philosophy
This paper investigates the origins of the distinction between experimental and speculative philosophy (ESP) in the mid-seventeenth century. It argues that there is a significant prehistory to the distinction in the analogous division between operative and speculative philosophy, which is commonly found in late scholastic philosophy and can be traced back via Aquinas to Aristotle. It is argued, however, the ESP is discontinuous with this operative/speculative distinction in a number of important respects. For example, the latter pertains to philosophy in general and not to natural philosophy in particular. Moreover, in the late Renaissance operative philosophy included ethics, politics and oeconomy and not observation and experiment – the things which came to be considered constitutive of the experimental philosophy. It is also argued that Francis Bacon’s mature division of the sciences, which includes a distinction in natural philosophy between the operative and the speculative, is too dissimilar from the ESP to have been an adumbration of this later distinction. No conclusion is drawn as to when exactly the ESP emerged, but a series of important developments that led to its distinctive character are surveyed.

Russell Blackford, Back to Locke: Freedom of Religion and the Secular State
For Locke, religious persecution was the problem – and a secular state apparatus was the solution. Locke argued that there were independent reasons for the state to confine its attention to “”civil interests”” or interests in “”the things of this world””. If it did so, it would not to motivated to impose a favoured religion or to persecute disfavoured ones. Taken to its logical conclusion, this approach has implications that Locke would have found unpalatable. We, however, need not hesitate to accept them.

Michael Couch, Hume’s Philosophy of Education
Hume has rarely been considered a contributor to the philosophy of education, which is unsurprising as he did not write a dedicated treastise nor make large specific comment, and so educators and philosophers have focused their attention elsewhere. However, I argue that a more careful reading of his works reveals that education is a significant concern, specificially of enriching the minds of particular people. I argue that his educational ideas occupy an important, although not major, place in his writings, and also an important place in the history of ideas as Hume fills a gap after Locke, and provides the framework for the much more educationally influential Bentham and Mill.

Gillian Crozier, Feyerabend on Newton: A defense of Newton’s empiricist method
In “Classical Empiricism,” Paul Feyerabend draws an analogy between Isaac Newton’s empiricist methodology and the Protestant faith’s primary tenet sola scriptura. He argues that the former – which dictates that ‘experience’ or the ‘book of nature’ is the sole justified basis for all knowledge of the external world – and the latter – which dictates that the sole justified basis for all religious understanding is Scripture – are equally vacuous. Feyerabend contends that Newton’s empiricism, which postures that experience is the sole legitimate foundation of scientific beliefs, serves to disguise supplementary background assumptions that are not observer-neutral but are steeped in tradition, dogma, and socio-cultural factors. He focuses on Newton’s treatment of perturbations in the Moon’s orbit, arguing that this typifies how Newton supports his theory by cherry-picking illustrations and pruning them of anomalies through the incorporation of ad hoc assumptions. We defend Newton’s notion of empirical success, arguing that Newton’s treatment of the variational inequality in the lunar orbit significantly adds to the empirical success a rival hypothesis would have to overcome.

Simon Duffy, The ‘Vindication’ of Leibniz’s Account of the Differential. A Response to Somers-Hall
In a recent article in Continental Philosophy Review, entitled ‘Hegel and Deleuze on the metaphysical interpretation of the calculus,’ Henry Somers-Hall claims that ‘the Leibnizian interpretation of the calculus, which relies on infinitely small quantities is rejected by Deleuze’(Somers-Hall 2010, 567). It is important to clarify that this claim does not entail the rejection of Leibniz’s infinitesimal, which Leibniz considered to be a useful fiction, and which continues to play a part in Deleuze’s account of the metaphysics of the calculus. In order to further clarify the terms of this debate, I will take up two further issues with Somers-Hall’s presentation of Deleuze’s account of the calculus. The first is with the way that recent work on Deleuze’s account of the calculus is reduced to what Somers-Hall refers to as ‘modern interpretations of the calculus,’ by which he means set-theoretical accounts. The second is that this reduction by Somers-Hall of ‘modern interpretations of the calculus’ to set-theoretical accounts means that his presentation of Deleuze’s account of the calculus is only partial, and the partial character of his presentation leads him to make a number of unnecessary presumptions about the presentation of Deleuze’s account of the ‘metaphysics of the calculus’.

Sandra Field, Spinoza and Radical Democracy
Antonio Negri’s radical democratic interpretation of Benedictus de Spinoza’s political philosophy has received much attention in recent years. Its central contention is that Spinoza considers the democratic multitude to have an inherent ethical power capable of grounding a just politics. In this paper, I argue to the contrary that such an interpretation gets Spinoza back to front: the ethical power of the multitude is the result of a just and fair political institutional order, not its cause. The consequences of my argument extend beyond Spinoza studies. For Spinoza gives a compelling argument for his rejection of a politics relying on the virtue of a mass subject; for him, such a politics substitutes moral posturing for understanding, and fails to grasp the determinate causes of the pathologies of human social order. Radical democrats hoping to achieve effective change would do well to lay aside a romanticised notion of the multitude and pay attention to the more mundane question of institutional design.

Juan Gomez, Hume’s Four Dissertations: Revisiting the Essay on Taste
Sixteen years ago a number of papers and discussions considering Hume’s essay on taste emerged in various journals. They deal with a number of issues that have been commonly thought to arise from the argument of the essay: some authors take Hume to be proposing two different standards of taste, other think that his argument is circular, and other focus on the role the standard and the critics play in Hume’s theory. I believe that all the issues that have been identified arise from a reading of the essay that takes it out of its context of publication, and mistakes Hume’s purpose in the essay. In this paper I want to propose an interpretation of the essay on taste that takes into account two key aspects: the unity of the dissertations that were published along with the essay on taste in 1757, under the title of Four Dissertations, and Hume’s commitment to the Experimental Philosophy of the early modern period. I believe that these two contextual aspects of the essay provide a reading of the essay on taste that besides solving the identified issues, gives us a good idea of its aim and purposes.

Jack MacIntosh, Models and Methods in the Early Modern Period: 4 case studies
In this paper I consider the various roles of models in early modern natural philosophy by looking at four central cases: Marten on the germ theory of disease. Descartes, Boyle and Hobbes on the spring of the air; The calorific atomists, Digby, Galileo, et al. versus the kinetic theorists such as Boyle on heat and cold; and Descartes, Boyle and Hooke on perception. Did models in the early modern period have explanatory power? Were they taken literally? Did they have a heuristic function? Unsurprisingly, perhaps, consideration of these four cases (along with a brief look at some others) leads to the conclusion that the answer to each of these questions is yes, no, or sometimes, depending on the model, and the modeller, in question. I consider briefly the relations among these different uses of models, and the role that such models played in the methodology of the ‘new philosophy.’ Alan Gabbey has suggested an interesting threefold distinction among explanatory types in the early modern period, and I consider, briefly, the way in which his classification scheme interacts with the one these cases suggest.

Kari Refsdal, Kant on Rational Agency as Free Agency
Kant argued for a close relationship between rational, moral, and free agency. Moral agency is explained in terms of rational and free agency. Many critics have objected that Kant’s view makes it inconceivable how we could freely act against the moral law – i.e., how we could freely act immorally. But of course we can! Henry Allison interprets Kant so as to make his view compatible with our freedom to violate the moral law. In this talk, I shall argue that Allison’s interpretation is anachronistic. Allison’s distinction between freedom as spontaneity and freedom as autonomy superimposes on Kant a contemporary conception of the person. Thus, Allison does not succeed in explaining how an agent can freely act against the moral law within a Kantian framework.

Alberto Vanzo, Rationalism and Empiricism in the Historiography of Early Modern Philosophy
According to standard histories of philosophy, the early modern period was dominated by the struggle between Descartes’, Spinoza’s, and Leibniz’s Continental Rationalism and Locke’s, Berkeley’s, and Hume’s British Empiricism. The paper traces the origins of this account of early modern philosophy and questions the assumptions underlying it.

Kirsten Walsh, Structural Realism, the Law-Constitutive Approach and Newton’s Epistemic Asymmetry
In his famous pronouncement, Hypotheses non fingo, Newton reveals a distinctive feature of his methodology: namely, he has asymmetrical epistemic commitments. He prioritises theories over hypotheses, physical properties over the nature of phenomena, and laws over matter. What do Newton’s epistemic commitments tell us about his ontological commitments? I examine two possible interpretations of Newton’s epistemic asymmetry: Worrall’s Structural Realism and Brading’s Law-Constitutive Approach. I argue that, while both interpretations provide useful insights into Newton’s ontological commitment to theories, physical properties and laws, only Brading’s interpretation sheds light on Newton’s ontological commitment to hypotheses, nature and matter.