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Category Archives: Updates

An Update…

Hello, Readers!

On 23rd August 2010, we published our first post, presenting our research project to the world.  As ‘newbies’ to blogging, we weren’t quite sure how effective it would be.  Four years later, there is no trace of those initial doubts.  The capacity to regularly share new research has helped us to be productive, to keep abreast of each other’s work, and to grow as a team. Most of all, it has allowed us to engage with the wider community, and to receive feedback at a very early stage in our research.

In light of the project’s development, the nature of the blog will change somewhat. Our Marsden grant ended two years ago, and we have all gradually moved onto other new projects:

    Peter Anstey continues to work on early modern experimental philosophy, though he now has an additional cognate project on ‘The nature and status of principles in early modern philosophy’. He is currently an ARC Future Fellow at the University of Sydney where his principles project is based. He also continues to work on Locke, Boyle and Bacon.
    Alberto Vanzo is now a research associate at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Warwick. He is working on early modern experimental philosophy, Kant and the historiography of philosophy.
    Juan Gomez is still at the University of Otago, working as a casual lecturer and continuing his research on Early Modern Spain. He is in the process of developing an extensive research project regarding the introduction of experimental philosophy in Spain in the second half of the seventeenth century and the unique Spanish take on the methodological debate of the period.
    Kirsten Walsh is now a research associate at the University of Calgary. She continues to work on Newton’s methodology, both from a historical perspective and also relating this work to current debates in the philosophy of science.

Early modern experimental philosophy continues to be a research interest for all of us – we still have heaps to study and to blog about – so we will continue to contribute to this blog, along with the occasional guest-blogger. But in July we will start mostly to blog monthly instead of fortnightly. We value your interest in our blog, and we hope you will continue reading, commenting and criticising our research. Our posts will appear on the first Monday of every month.

We at Early Modern Experimental Philosophy thank you for your continued interest in our project.

An Update…

Kirsten Walsh writes …

Hello, Readers!

As 2012 draws to a close, we’d like to announce some minor changes to our blog.  While our Marsden funding has ended and we are gradually moving onto other new projects, our interest in early modern experimental philosophy continues and so will this blog.

Peter Anstey has moved to the University of Sydney, where he is about to begin a project on ‘The nature and status of principles in early modern philosophy’. His book John Locke and Natural Philosophy has recently been awarded the Journal of the History of Philosophy Book Prize for the best book on the history of Western philosophy published in 2011.

And Alberto Vanzo has moved to the University of Birmingham, where he is a Marie Curie research fellow. He is working on developments in the history of the rationalism and empiricism distinction.

We still have much to study and to blog about – so we will all continue to make regular posts on this blog, along with the occasional guest-blogger.  But in the New Year, we will post fortnightly instead of weekly.  We value your interest in our blog, and we hope you will continue reading, commenting and criticizing and contributing to our research next year.  Our first post of 2013 will appear on 7 January.

We at Early Modern Experimental Philosophy wish you a happy festive season and look forward to hearing from you in 2013!

On a final note, since tomorrow marks 370 years since Newton was born*, I couldn’t resist adding this picture.  My apologies to those of you with historically-sensitive eyes!

*Actually, Newton was born on 25 December 1642 on the Julian (‘Old Style’) calendar, which adjusts to 4 January 1643 on the Gregorian (‘New Style’) calendar.

A year on…

Hello, Readers!

One year ago today, we published our first post to present our research project to the world. We were new to blogging and we weren’t quite sure how effective it would be. After twelve months and 58 posts, there is no trace of those initial doubts. Forcing ourselves to publish a new piece on our work in progress (nearly) each week has been a good exercise. It has helped us to be productive, to keep each other abreast of each other’s research, and to grow as a team. Most of all, it has been great to receive the attention and feedback of our readers. Today we’d like to thank you for being on board, to look back at where we’ve come from, and to ask for a bit more of your helpful advice.

First of all, we are most grateful for our readers’ emails, comments and posts on our project elsewhere on the Net. You have taught us about the notion of experience in early modern Aristotelianism (1 to 8), outlined the evidence for Hume’s knowledge of Berkeley better than we possibly could, expanded on our reflections on the usefulness or uselessness of the notion of empiricism, alerted us to many sources that we had not taken into account, and provided plenty of other input that helped shaping the directions of our research. We may not have succeeded to persuade you all that ESP is best yet (it is just a matter of time), but we’re learning from your objections. Keep them coming! As you will have guessed, we are all working on research projects that are related to the topics of our posts. It’s helpful to get an early idea of the weak points and potential criticisms of the arguments we’re trying to articulate.

We are especially grateful to the many colleagues whose guest posts broadened and deepened our research on a number of fronts. They taught us about Galileo, De Volder, Sturm, seventeenth-century Dutch physicians, experiment and culture in the historiography of philosophy, in addition to providing critical discussions of many of our own ideas. Stay tuned for more stimulating guest-posts!

For our part, here’s a summary of our first year of blogging:

The Big Picture

We claimed that it’s much better to interpret early modern authors as early modern experimental philosophers than as empiricists. For the details, you can read our 20 theses, tour through our images of experimental philosophy, or head towards these posts:

Seventeenth Century Britain, plus a new find

In addition to providing the big picture in the above posts, Peter blogged on the origins of x-phi and its impact on seventeenth-century natural philosophy:

Newton’s Experimental Philosophy

Moving towards the eighteenth century, Kirsten has explored the new form of the experimental philosophy that took shape in Newton’s mathematical method and its impact on his natural philosophy, especially his optics:

X-phi in Eighteenth Century Scotland: Ethics and Aesthetics

Juan has traced the presence of experimental philosophy in Scottish philosophy throughout the eighteenth century, including Turnbull, Fordyce, Reid, and the Edinburgh Philosophical Society. He has focused especially on the experimental method in ethics and aesthetics:

German Thinkers from X-Phi to Empiricism

Alberto has looked at the influence of x-phi in Germany, especially on Leibniz, Wolff, Tetens, and Kant’s contemporaries. He then explored the development of the traditional narrative of early modern philosophy based on the distinction between empiricism an rationalism in Kant, Reinhold, and Tennemann.

For those readers who have followed us from the early days, we hope that a coherent narrative has emerged. We’d love to hear if you think that we’re up to something interesting or that we’re going off track. What better way to celebrate our anniversary than to give us some more feedback! Also, please do let us know if you have any suggestions on topics to study and directions in which we could pursue our research. You can reach us via email, Facebook, and Twitter. As always, you can keep updated via the mailing list or the RSS feed. We still have much to study and to blog about. Thanks for coming along, and we hope you’ll enjoy our future posts.

Monthly Update

Hello, readers!

In our monthly updates, we look back at what happened on the blog in the past few weeks and we highlight recent posts, conferences, and upcoming deadlines on early modern experimental philosophy.

Since the last monthly update, we wrote on Wolff’s criticism of Newton‘s hypothesis non fingo, on whether Newton actually feigns any hypotheses and on Tetens’ distinction between experimental and speculative philosophy. We also continued our discussion with Eric Schliesser on experimental vs speculative philosophy. Peter responded to Eric’s first review of our project by distinguishing Baconian and non-Baconian forms of experimental philosophy. Eric expanded on his views on the history of experimental philosophy on the New APPS blog. Then Juan and Eric debated on Newtonianism and anti-Newtonianism in early modern moral philosophy. Many thanks to Eric Schliesser for his stimulating inputs and to Zsolt Almási and Gerhard Wiesenfeldt for their comments on the blog. They are much appreciated.

Juan and Kirsten are giving two papers at the upcoming conference of the New Zealand division of the Australasian Association of Philosophy. The conference is hosted this year by the University of Waikato in Hamilton, and it will run from the 5th to the 9th of December. Both Kirsten and Juan will be talking about topics related to their PhD research. Kirsten’s paper investigates Newton’s first optical paper, and Juan will be talking about Turnbull and the theory of association of ideas. Here are the abstracts:

Hypotheses and Newton’s First Optical Papers (by Kirsten Walsh)

Newton’s famous pronouncement, Hypotheses non fingo, is controversial. Some writers, such as Sabre and Dear, argue that Newton is merely ‘paying lip-service’ to the dominant methodological tradition. Others, such as Janiak, argue that Newton’s anti-hypotheticalism is a polemical device, designed specifically to oppose his Cartesian and Leibnizian critics. I argue that we should take Newton’s pronouncement as a genuine account of his methodology.

I take a fresh look at Newton’s anti-hypothetical stance in light of the role of hypotheses in the Baconian-experimental tradition in which Newton’s early research was conducted. I examine Newton’s earliest publications: his first papers on optics. I argue that Newton is working with a rough but genuine distinction between hypothesis and theory. This distinction is consistent with both the Baconian-experimental method and with his later anti-hypothetical pronouncements.

The Association of Ideas in Hobbes, Locke, and Turnbull (by Juan Gomez)

John Locke added a chapter titled ‘Of the Association of Ideas’ to the fourth edition (1700) of his Essay concerning Human Understanding, which most scholars regard as just an afterthought. However, it has been argued that the theory of association explained in this chapter had a remarkable influence on most thinkers of the Scottish enlightenment, including Hutcheson, Hume, and Hartley, just to name a few. In his inquiry into the development of the theory of association in eighteenth-century Britain, Martin Kallich argues that Locke was not the first thinker in the early modern period to come up with such a theory, since Hobbes had already proposed a similar doctrine in Leviathan. Kallich also thinks that Locke’s originality consists in examining the association of ideas as a “hindrance to right thinking.” Hobbes, on the other hand, has a ‘positive’ representation of the theory. If we accept Kallich’s interpretation, George Turnbull’s description of the theory of association stands as an interesting case; he mentions Locke as one of his main sources, but gives a particularly ‘positive’ version of the association of ideas. In this paper I examine the theory of association in Hobbes, Locke and Turnbull, and argue for two claims: 1.) Kallich’s interpretation is not quite accurate, since Hobbes’ version of the theory of association is not as closely related to Locke’s version as he thinks; in fact, it can’t even be regarded as a proper theory of association 2.) Turnbull’s commitment to the experimental method led him to construct a version of the association of ideas that was the opposite of what Locke meant by ’association’. I will support my claims by showing the similarities and differences in the three versions of the theory, focusing on the difference between ‘natural association’, ‘associated ideas’, and ‘trains of thought’.

Early Modern experimental philosophy on the net:

Upcoming deadlines:

That’s it for this time. Have we missed some event, call for paper, or interesting reading? Would you like us to include your writings or events in the next monthly update? Do let us know! Also, you can subscribe to our mailing list or RSS feed if you would like to be notified of new posts. For more frequent updates, follow us on Twitter. You can “like” us on Facebook by pressing the buttons at the bottom of each post and on our Facebook page if you want. But most of all, thanks for reading and feel free to send us your comments, suggestions, and criticisms.

This coming Monday Kirsten will publish a post on Newton’s views on certainty in natural science. Stay tuned!

Monthly Update: Events, CFPs, and Readings

Hello, readers!

Below is a list of upcoming events, call for papers, recent posts and a journal article of some relevance to early modern experimental philosophy.

Upcoming Events:

Calls for Papers with deadlines in October-November:

  • Annual Conference of the New Zealand Division of the Australasian Association of Philosophy. University of Waikato (New Zealand), 5-9 December 2010. Deadline: 29 October.
  • Hume after 300 Years: The 38th International Hume Society Conference. Edinburgh, 18-23 July 2011. Deadline: 1 November.
  • New York City Workshop in Early Modern Philosophy. New York, 25-27 February 2011. Deadline: 15 November.


Brett Fulkerson-Smith discusses Kant’s “experiment of pure reason” in the last issue of the Kantian Review.

Two reviews relating to the early Royal Society have recently been published: a review of John Gribbin’s book The Fellowship at Some Beans and a review of an exposition on John Aubrey and the roots of the Royal Society in the Times Online.

Here on our blog, we introduced ourselves and our project. We wrote about our research on Newton’s mathematical method and on the experimental method in British moral philosophy, in particular in George Turnbull. We discussed the difference between contemporary and early modern experimental philosophy. We argued that it is better to interpret the history of early modern philosophy in the light of the distinction between experimental vs speculative philosophy, rather than rationalism vs empiricism. In the comments, Neil Rickert, Benny Goldberg and Gary Banham provided valuable suggestions. Thanks!

We did not quite manage to fully convince Eric Schliesser. He discussed our ideas over at It’s Only A Theory.

Have we missed some event, call for paper, or reading? Would you like us to include your writings or events in the next monthly update? Do let us know! Also, you can subscribe to our mailing list or RSS feed if you would like to be notified of new posts. For more frequent updates, follow us on Twitter.

See you next Monday with a post on Christian Wolff vs Isaac Newton on the experimental method.