What Is It Like To Be a Material Thing? Henry More and Margaret Cavendish on the Unity of the Mind

In Donald Rutherford (ed.), Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy, Volume XI. Oxford University Press. pp. 97-136 (2022)
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Henry More argues that materialism cannot account for cases where a single subject or perceiver has multiple perceptions simultaneously. Since we clearly do have multiple perceptions at the same time--for example, when we see, hear, and smell simultaneously--More concludes that we are not wholly material. In response to More's argument, Margaret Cavendish adopts a two-fold strategy. First, she argues that there is no general obstacle to mental unification in her version of materialism. Second, Cavendish appeals to the mind or rational matter--terms she often uses interchangeably—to explain the integration of sensory input from multiple senses. When the mind integrates perceptions across modalities, the different parts of rational matter share their knowledge so that they all come to perceive alike. When rational parts successfully communicate their knowledge, each part knows what all the others know. They pool their knowledge; they perceive alike. Thus, when someone hears, sees, and tastes, each part of her mind hears, sees, and tastes alike, in parallel and in unison. The Cavendishian mind, in short, approximates simplicity by achieving uniformity or homogeneity of perceptions across its parts.



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Colin Chamberlain
University College London

Citations of this work

Veil of Light: The Role of Light in Cavendish's Visual Perception.Brooke Willow Sharp - 2023 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 10 (51):1471-1494.

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References found in this work

Debating Materialism: Cavendish, Hobbes, and More.Stewart Duncan - 2012 - History of Philosophy Quarterly 29 (4):391-409.
The philosophical innovations of Margaret Cavendish.Susan James - 1999 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 7 (2):219 – 244.
Concerning the Unity of Consciousness.William Hasker - 1995 - Faith and Philosophy 12 (4):532-547.

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