Skip to Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map

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.

Comments are closed.