Visual Perception as Patterning: Cavendish against Hobbes on Sensation

History of Philosophy Quarterly 33 (3):193-214 (2016)
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Many of Margaret Cavendish’s criticisms of Thomas Hobbes in the Philosophical Letters (1664) relate to the disorder and damage that she holds would result if Hobbesian pressure were the cause of visual perception. In this paper, I argue that her “two men” thought experiment in Letter IV is aimed at a different goal: to show the explanatory potency of her account. First, I connect Cavendish’s view of visual perception as “patterning” to the “two men” thought experiment in Letter IV. Second, I provide a potential reply on Hobbes’s behalf that appeals to physiological differences between perceivers’ sense organs, drawing upon Hobbes’s optics in De homine. Third, I argue that such a reply would misunderstand Cavendish’s objective of showing the limited explanatory resources available in understanding visual perception as pressing when compared to her view of visual perception as patterning.



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Marcus P. Adams
State University of New York, Albany

Citations of this work

Margaret Cavendish on the Order and Infinitude of Nature.Michael Bennett McNulty - 2018 - History of Philosophy Quarterly 35 (3):219-239.
Margaret Cavendish on conceivability, possibility, and the case of colours.Peter West - 2021 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 30 (3):456-476.
Margaret Lucas Cavendish.David Cunning - 2010 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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References found in this work

Leviathan.Thomas Hobbes - 2006 - In Aloysius Martinich, Fritz Allhoff & Anand Vaidya (eds.), Early Modern Philosophy: Essential Readings with Commentary. Blackwell.
Debating Materialism: Cavendish, Hobbes, and More.Stewart Duncan - 2012 - History of Philosophy Quarterly 29 (4):391-409.
Observations upon Experimental Philosophy.Margaret Cavendish & Eileen O'neill - 2004 - Philosophical Quarterly 54 (214):175-177.
The philosophical innovations of Margaret Cavendish.Susan James - 1999 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 7 (2):219 – 244.

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