David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Ezio Di Nucci
Jack Alan Reynolds
Learn more about PhilPapers
In Henry Martyn Lloyd (ed.), The Discourse of Sensibility: The Knowing Body in the Enlightenment. Springer 147-170 (2014)
Sensibility, in any of its myriad realms – moral, physical, aesthetic, medical and so on – seems to be a paramount case of a higher-level, intentional property, not a basic property. Diderot famously made the bold and attributive move of postulating that matter itself senses, or that sensibility (perhaps better translated ‘sensitivity’ here) is a general or universal property of matter, even if he at times took a step back from this claim and called it a “supposition.” Crucially, sensibility is here playing the role of a ‘booster’: it enables materialism to provide a full and rich account of the phenomena of conscious, sentient life, contrary to what its opponents hold: for if matter can sense, and sensibility is not a merely mechanical process, then the loftiest cognitive plateaus are accessible to materialist analysis, or at least belong to one and the same world as the rest of matter. This was noted by the astute anti-materialist critic, the Abbé Lelarge de Lignac, who, in his 1751 Lettres à un Amériquain, criticized Buffon for “granting to the body [la machine, a common term for the body at the time] a quality which is essential to minds, namely sensibility.” This view, here attributed to Buffon and definitely held by Diderot, was comparatively rare. If we look for the sources of this concept, the most notable ones are physiological and medical treatises by prominent figures such as Robert Whytt, Albrecht von Haller and the Montpellier vitalist Théophile de Bordeu. We then have, or so I shall try to sketch out, an intellectual landscape in which new – or newly articulated – properties such as irritability and sensibility are presented either as an experimental property of muscle fibers, that can be understood mechanistically (Hallerian irritability, as studied recently by Hubert Steinke and Dominique Boury) or a property of matter itself (whether specifically living matter as in Bordeu and his fellow montpelliérains Ménuret and Fouquet, or matter in general, as in Diderot). I am by no means convinced that it is one and the same ‘sensibility’ that is at issue in debates between these figures (as when Bordeu attacks Haller’s distinction between irritability and sensibility and claims that ‘his own’ property of sensibility is both more correct and more fundamental in organic beings), but I am interested in mapping out a topography of the problem of sensibility as property of matter or as vital force in mid-eighteenth-century debates – not an exhaustive cartography of all possible positions or theories, but an attempt to understand the ‘triangulation’ of three views: a vitalist view in which sensibility is fundamental, matching up with a conception of the organism as the sum of parts conceived as little lives (Bordeu et al.); a mechanist, or ‘enhanced mechanist’ view in which one can work upwards, step by step from the basic property of irritability to the higher-level property of sensibility (Haller); and, more eclectic, a materialist view which seeks to combine the mechanistic, componential rigour and explanatory power of the Hallerian approach, with the monistic and metaphysically explosive potential of the vitalist approach (Diderot). It is my hope that examining Diderot in the context of this triangulated topography of sensibility as property sheds light on his famous proclamation regarding sensibility as a universal property of matter.
|Keywords||sensibility and irritability Haller, Diderot nervous system|
|Categories||categorize this paper)|
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
|Through your library|
References found in this work BETA
No references found.
Citations of this work BETA
No citations found.
Similar books and articles
Charles T. Wolfe (2008). Vitalism Without Metaphysics? Medical Vitalism in the Enlightenment. Science in Context 21 (4):461-463.
Robert E. Doud (1993). Matter and God in Rahner and Whitehead. Philosophy and Theology 8 (1):63-81.
Xiusheng Liu (2002). Mencius, Hume, and Sensibility Theory. Philosophy East and West 52 (1):75-97.
Marjolein Oele (2009). Aesthetic Sensibility and Political Praxis. Radical Philosophy Review 12 (1/2):137-155.
Charles T. Wolfe (2012). Forms of Materialist Embodiment. In Matthew Landers & Brian Muñoz (eds.), Anatomy and the Organization of Knowledge, 1500-1850. Pickering and Chatto
Ann V. Murphy (2010). “All Things Considered:” Sensibility and Ethics in the Later Merleau-Ponty and Derrida. Continental Philosophy Review 42 (4):435-447.
Ryan Doerfler (2012). A Comedy of Errors or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Sensibility-Invariantism About 'Funny'. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 93 (4):493-522.
Stephen Engstrom (2006). Understanding and Sensibility. Inquiry 49 (1):2 – 25.
Michael J. Pendlebury (1999). Sensibility and Understanding in Perceptual Judgments. South African Journal of Philosophy 18 (4):356-369.
Joan L. Whipp, Terry J. Burant & Sharon M. Chubbuck (2007). The Presence and Possibility of Moral Sensibility in Beginning Pre-Service Teachers. Ethics and Education 2 (2):109-130.
Sharon M. Chubbuck, Terry J. Burant & Joan L. Whipp (2007). The Presence and Possibility of Moral Sensibility in Beginning Pre-Service Teachers. Ethics and Education 2 (2):109-130.
Dominic Lopes (2005). Sight and Sensibility. Oxford University Press.
Stephen A. Sherblom (2012). What Develops in Moral Development? A Model of Moral Sensibility. Journal of Moral Education 41 (1):117-142.
Simon Kirchin (2000). Quasi-Realism, Sensibility Theory, and Ethical Relativism. Inquiry 43 (4):413 – 427.
Added to index2012-05-08
Total downloads585 ( #1,286 of 1,793,059 )
Recent downloads (6 months)85 ( #5,836 of 1,793,059 )
How can I increase my downloads?