People have always been xenophobic, but an explicit philosophical and scientific view of human racial difference only began to emerge during the modern period. Why and how did this happen? Surveying a range of philosophical and natural-scientific texts, dating from the Spanish Renaissance to the German Enlightenment, Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference charts the evolution of the modern concept of race and shows that natural philosophy, particularly efforts to taxonomize and to order nature, played a crucial role. Smith demonstrates (...) how the denial of moral equality between Europeans and non-Europeans resulted from converging philosophical and scientific developments, including a declining belief in human nature's universality and the rise of biological classification. The racial typing of human beings grew from the need to understand humanity within an all-encompassing system of nature, alongside plants, minerals, primates, and other animals. While racial difference as seen through science did not arise in order to justify the enslavement of people, it became a rationalization and buttress for the practices of trans-Atlantic slavery. From the work of François Bernier to G. W. Leibniz, Immanuel Kant, and others, Smith delves into philosophy's part in the legacy and damages of modern racism. With a broad narrative stretching over two centuries, Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference takes a critical historical look at how the racial categories that we divide ourselves into came into being. (shrink)
Though it did not yet exist as a discrete field of scientific inquiry, biology was at the heart of many of the most important debates in seventeenth-century philosophy. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the work of G. W. Leibniz. In Divine Machines, Justin Smith offers the first in-depth examination of Leibniz's deep and complex engagement with the empirical life sciences of his day, in areas as diverse as medicine, physiology, taxonomy, generation theory, and paleontology. He shows how these (...) wide-ranging pursuits were not only central to Leibniz's philosophical interests, but often provided the insights that led to some of his best-known philosophical doctrines.Presenting the clearest picture yet of the scope of Leibniz's theoretical interest in the life sciences, Divine Machines takes seriously the philosopher's own repeated claims that the world must be understood in fundamentally biological terms. Here Smith reveals a thinker who was immersed in the sciences of life, and looked to the living world for answers to vexing metaphysical problems. He casts Leibniz's philosophy in an entirely new light, demonstrating how it radically departed from the prevailing models of mechanical philosophy and had an enduring influence on the history and development of the life sciences. Along the way, Smith provides a fascinating glimpse into early modern debates about the nature and origins of organic life, and into how philosophers such as Leibniz engaged with the scientific dilemmas of their era. (shrink)
This volume collects contributions from leading scholars of early modern philosophy from a wide variety of philosophical and geographic backgrounds. The distinguished contributors offer very different, competing approaches to the history of philosophy.
In this volume Smith examines the early modern science of generation, which included the study of animal conception, heredity, and fetal development. Analyzing how it influenced the contemporary treatment of traditional philosophical questions, it also demonstrates how philosophical pre-suppositions about mechanism, substance, and cause informed the interpretations offered by those conducting empirical research on animal reproduction. Composed of essays written by an international team of leading scholars, the book offers a fresh perspective on some of the basic problems in early (...) modern philosophy. It also considers how these basic problems manifested themselves within an area of scientific inquiry that had not previously received much consideration by historians of philosophy. (shrink)
"Anton Wilhelm Amo is the first modern African philosopher to study and teach in a European university and write in the European philosophical tradition. We give an extensive historical and philosophical introduction to Amo's life and work, and provide Latin texts, with facing translations and explanatory notes, of Amo's two philosophical dissertations, On the Impassivity of the Human Mind and the Philosophical Disputation containing a Distinct Idea of those Things that Pertain either to the Mind or to our Living and (...) Organic Body, both published in 1734. The Impassivity is an extended argument that the mind cannot be acted on, that sensation is a being-acted-on by the sensed object, and therefore that sensation does not belong to the mind, and must belong instead to the body The Distinct Idea works out the implications for the mind's actions, and tries to show how the mind understands, wills, and effects things through the body by 'intentions' which direct motions in our body intentionally toward external things. Both dissertations try to show how far each type of human act belongs to the mind, how far to the body, and expose and resolve earlier philosophers' self-contradictions on these questions"--. (shrink)
Many today agree that philosophy, as an academic discipline, must, for the sake of its very survival, become more inclusive of a wider range of perspectives, coming from a more diverse pool of philosophers. Yet there has been little serious reflection on how our very idea of what philosophy is might be preventing this change from taking place. In this essay I would like to consider the ways in which our ideas about philosophy's relation to tradition, and its relation to (...) other dimensions of human culture, influence efforts to promote greater diversity in the field. (shrink)
_The first unabridged English translation of the correspondence between Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Georg Ernst Stahl detailing their opposing philosophies_ The correspondence between the eighteenth-century mathematician and philosopher G. W. Leibniz and G. E. Stahl, a chemist and physician at the court of King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia, known as the Leibniz-Stahl Controversy, is one of the most important intellectual contributions on theoretical issues concerning pre-biological thinking. Editors François Duchesneau and Justin E. H. Smith offer readers the first fully (...) annotated English translation of this fascinating exchange of philosophical views on divine action, the order of nature, causality and teleology, and the soul-body relationship. (shrink)
A fascinating history that reveals the ways in which the pursuit of rationality often leads to an explosion of irrationality It’s a story we can’t stop telling ourselves. Once, humans were benighted by superstition and irrationality, but then the Greeks invented reason. Later, the Enlightenment enshrined rationality as the supreme value. Discovering that reason is the defining feature of our species, we named ourselves the “rational animal.” But is this flattering story itself rational? In this sweeping account of irrationality from (...) antiquity to today—from the fifth-century BC murder of Hippasus for revealing the existence of irrational numbers to the rise of Twitter mobs and the election of Donald Trump—Justin Smith says the evidence suggests the opposite. From sex and music to religion and war, irrationality makes up the greater part of human life and history. Rich and ambitious, Irrationality ranges across philosophy, politics, and current events. Challenging conventional thinking about logic, natural reason, dreams, art and science, pseudoscience, the Enlightenment, the internet, jokes and lies, and death, the book shows how history reveals that any triumph of reason is temporary and reversible, and that rational schemes, notably including many from Silicon Valley, often result in their polar opposite. The problem is that the rational gives birth to the irrational and vice versa in an endless cycle, and any effort to permanently set things in order sooner or later ends in an explosion of unreason. Because of this, it is irrational to try to eliminate irrationality. For better or worse, it is an ineradicable feature of life. Illuminating unreason at a moment when the world appears to have gone mad again, Irrationality is fascinating, provocative, and timely. (shrink)
From sex and music to religion and politics, a history of irrationality and the ways in which it has always been with us—and always will be In this sweeping account of irrationality from antiquity to the rise of Twitter mobs and the election of Donald Trump, Justin Smith argues that irrationality makes up the greater part of human life and history. Ranging across philosophy, politics, and current events, he shows that, throughout history, every triumph of reason has been temporary and (...) reversible, and that rational schemes often result in their polar opposite. Illuminating unreason at a moment when the world appears to have gone mad again, Irrationality is timely, provocative, and fascinating. (shrink)
The introduction explain the need for how an international, inclusive discussion about the range of different methodological approaches from different traditions of philosophy can be read alongside each other and be seen in sometimes very critical conversation with each other. In addition, the introduction identifies four broad themes in the volume: the largest group of chapters advocate methods that promote history of philosophy as an unapologetic, autonomous enterprise with its own criteria within philosophy. Second, three chapters can be seen as (...) historicizing the history of philosophy from within. Third, four chapters argue for history of philosophy as a means toward making contributions to contemporary philosophy. Finally, two chapters explore the relationship between the history of philosophy and the history of science. (shrink)
What would the global history of philosophy look like if it were told not as a story of ideas but as a series of job descriptions—ones that might have been used to fill the position of philosopher at different times and places over the past 2,500 years? The Philosopher does just that, providing a new way of looking at the history of philosophy by bringing to life six kinds of figures who have occupied the role of philosopher in a wide (...) range of societies around the world over the millennia—the Natural Philosopher, the Sage, the Gadfly, the Ascetic, the Mandarin, and the Courtier. The result is at once an unconventional introduction to the global history of philosophy and an original exploration of what philosophy has been—and perhaps could be again. By uncovering forgotten or neglected philosophical job descriptions, the book reveals that philosophy is a universal activity, much broader—and more gender inclusive—than we normally think today. In doing so, The Philosopher challenges us to reconsider our idea of what philosophers can do and what counts as philosophy. (shrink)
Other than the historical writings, the edition of which has yet to begin, Series VIII of the Academy Edition of Leibniz’s writings, presenting his “natural-scientific, medical, and technical” contributions, has been, since the project began in 1923, consistently deemed to be of low priority, and it is only very recently that the project has got fully underway. Coming, as it does, nearer to the end of the edition of the complete works, Series VIII has the advantage of accumulating some of (...) the ‘run-off’ of the philosophical writings, that is, texts of philosophical import that for whatever reason were not initially deemed sufficiently philosophical to be included in Series II or VI. Currently in preparation are the writings on chemistry, hydrology, and other natural sciences. The medical and ‘biological’ manuscripts, identified as ‘LH III’, will be edited likely some years from now.2 On our reading of these manuscripts, all or most are of at least some interest to the scholar of Leibniz’s philosophy. (shrink)
This volume draws a balanced picture of the Rationalists by bringing their intellectual contexts, sources and full range of interests into sharper focus, without neglecting their core commitment to the epistemological doctrine that earned ...
The real history of the covey of attention-artists who call themselves "The Birds." A great deal of uncertainty--and even some genuine confusion--surrounds the origin, evolution, and activities of the so-called Avis Tertia or "Order of the Third Bird." Sensational accounts of this "attentional cult" emphasize histrionic rituals, tragic trance-addictions, and the covert dissemination of obscurantist ontologies of the art object. Hieratic, ecstatic, and endlessly evasive, the Order attracts sensual misfits and cabalistic aesthetes--both to its ranks, and to its scholarship. In (...) recent years, however, the revisionist work of the research collective ESTAR(SER) has done much to clear the air, bringing archival precision to the history of this covey of attention-artists who call themselves "The Birds." Gathering the best articles of the last twenty years of The Proceedings of ESTAR(SER), this volume represents a landmark in the history of aesthetic practices, and will be a point of departure for future work wading the muddy marshes at the limits of historicism."--Publisher description. (shrink)
This volume explores the intersection between early modern philosophy and the life sciences by presenting the contributions of important but often neglected figures such as Cudworth, Grew, Glisson, Hieronymus Fabricius, Stahl, Gallego, Hartsoeker, and More, as well as familiar figures such as Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Malebranche, and Kant.
This Introduction takes a broadly focused, global, and comparative view of the concept of embodiment, focusing particularly on some of the ways it has been interpreted outside of the history of European thought. It also provides a general overview of the central concerns and questions of the volume as a whole, such as: What is the historical and conceptual relationship between the idea of embodiment and the idea of subjecthood? Am I who I am principally in virtue of the fact (...) that I have the body I have? Relatedly, what is the relationship of embodiment to being and to individuality? Is embodiment a necessary condition of being? Of being an individual? What are the theological dimensions of embodiment? To what extent has the concept of embodiment been deployed in the history of philosophy to contrast the created world with the state of existence enjoyed by God? What are the normative dimensions of theories of embodiment? To what extent is the problem of embodiment a distinctly western preoccupation? (shrink)
An original deep history of the internet that tells the story of the centuries-old utopian dreams behind it—and explains why they have died today Many think of the internet as an unprecedented and overwhelmingly positive achievement of modern human technology. But is it? In The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is, Justin Smith offers an original deep history of the internet, from the ancient to the modern world—uncovering its surprising origins in nature and centuries-old dreams of radically improving (...) human life by outsourcing thinking to machines and communicating across vast distances. Yet, despite the internet’s continuing potential, Smith argues, the utopian hopes behind it have finally died today, killed by the harsh realities of social media, the global information economy, and the attention-destroying nature of networked technology. Ranging over centuries of the history and philosophy of science and technology, Smith shows how the “internet” has been with us much longer than we usually think. He draws fascinating connections between internet user experience, artificial intelligence, the invention of the printing press, communication between trees, and the origins of computing in the machine-driven looms of the silk industry. At the same time, he reveals how the internet’s organic structure and development root it in the natural world in unexpected ways that challenge efforts to draw an easy line between technology and nature. Combining the sweep of intellectual history with the incisiveness of philosophy, The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is cuts through our daily digital lives to give a clear-sighted picture of what the internet is, where it came from, and where it might be taking us in the coming decades. (shrink)
I clarify Hegel’s role in the Europeanization of philosophy over the course of the 19th century. I begin with an investigation of the way non-Western philosophy was conceptualized in Europe before, and after, I move on to a consideration of the debates about philosophy that emerged in late 19th century China because of European attempts, such as that of Hegel, to circumscribe the geographical and civilizational scope of this discipline. How may we see the emergence of a distinctly modern, generally (...) nationalist, discourse about “Chinese philosophy” within China as a reflection of larger global processes then taking place? (shrink)
In this article, I consider the significance of the discovery of spermatozoa for Leibniz's deeply held beliefs that (i) no true substance can ever be generated or destroyed, except miraculously; and (ii) that every substance must be perpetually organically embodied. I further consider the way these beliefs are transformed as Leibniz's basic middle-period commitment to corporeal substance gives way (though not entirely) to a metaphysics of monadological immaterialsm. What endures throughout, I show, is the conviction that whatever is real must (...) be indestructible, whether this is conceived as a form-matter compound in which the two components can never be entirely sundered from one another, or as a node of perception “absolutely destitute of parts”. Whatever the deepest metaphysical account of corporeality, Leibniz never abandons his interest in spermatozoa as the corporeal hosts of preexisting animals. (shrink)
Much recent scholarly treatment of the theoretical and practical underpinnings of biological taxonomy from the 16 th to the 18 th centuries has failed to adequately consider the importance of the mode of generation of some living entity in the determination of its species membership, as well as in the determination of the ontological profile of the species itself. In this article, I show how a unique set of considerations was brought to bear in the classification of creatures whose species (...) membership was thought to be entirely determined by descent from parents of the same kind, in contrast with creatures whose generation could proceed spontaneously or through budding. Concretely, the relevance of mode of generation to the practice of taxonomy means that we must rethink the role of the early modern botanists in the development of a universal science of applied taxonomy. I argue that the task of classifying ‘higher’ biological kinds—those united, in Kant’s language, through their generative power—is one with its unique set of problems, arising as much from classical anthropology as from natural philosophy, and that the conception of zoological species that emerged in the early modern period was a consequence of these problems, and not primarily of the ‘applied metaphysics’ of classificatory practice. (shrink)
In this short essay I will aim to show that literary fiction is consistently at the vanguard of the exploration of philosophical problems relating to the concept of world, while what we think of as philosophy, in the narrower sense, typically arrives late on the scene, picking up themes that have already been explored in literary texts that are explicitly intended as exercises of the imagination. I will pursue this argument with a sustained investigation of the shared aims and methods (...) of Miguel de Cervantes and René Descartes. (shrink)
I argue against the view that Leibniz’s construction of reality out of perceiving substances must be seen as the first of the modern idealist philosophies. I locate this central feature of Leibniz’s thought instead in a decidedly premodern tradition. This tradition sees bodiliness as a consequence of the confused perception of finite substances, and equates God’s uniquely disembodied being with his maximally distinct perceptions. But unlike modern idealism, the premodern view takes confusion as the very feature of any created substance (...) that makes possible its distinctness from the Creator. Modern idealism, in contrast, emerges when the external world becomes a problem, when the epistemological worry arises as to how the mind might access it. In the tradition in which I place Leibniz, there simply is no such worry. (shrink)
This article examines the debate among natural philosophers during the early modern period which concerned whether living beings could be understood as biological machines that did not require a distinct principle of life or soul to explain their complex functioning. It suggests that these innovations can be seen collectively as a gradual substitution of the categorial framework of Aristotle by one derived from the experimental and mathematical sciences. The traditional epistemic relationship between natural philosophy and metaphysics thereby began a long-term (...) reversal. This article also discusses the sources of the early modern machine concept, animal spirits, and the problem of intermediate principles. (shrink)