Not long ago, historians of philosophy realized with some excitement the canonical texts of the early modern period could be rendered increasingly intelligible if they were read not as discussing a series of atemporal “purely philosophical” questions, but as embedded in the issues raised by contemporaneous events such as the scientific revolution. To take an often-discussed example, it was hoped that, so contextualized, Locke’s notoriously puzzling distinction between primary and secondary qualities would fall into place as an expression of his (...) colleague Boyle’s corpuscularianism. But even so contextualized, Locke’s texts and many others remained puzzling. Part of the problem, we are now learning, is that the very concept of the scientific revolution itself needs to be contextualized. Historians of philosophy relied too heavily on an understanding of the scientific revolution constructed with an eye to our present-day understanding of science which overprivileges the physical sciences and papers over differences flourishing in the early modern period. In The Invisible World, Catherine Wilson, a philosopher, takes matters into her own hands and, through an examination of the history of the microscope, contributes important evidence for the need to enrich our understanding of the nature of science in the period from 1620 to 1720. (shrink)
An important selection from the largely unknown writings of women philosophers of the early modern period. Each selection is prefaced by a headnote giving a biographical account of its author and setting the piece in historical context. Atherton’s Introduction provides a solid framework for assessing these works and their place in modern philosophy.
Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One’s Own, asked why there were no women writers before 1800. If she had been thinking about philosophers instead of writers in the traditional women’s areas of plays and fiction, she might have asked why there were no women philosophers at all, for I suspect that most people would find it very hard to name a woman philosopher before the present day. To help her in answering her question, she invented a fictional character, Judith (...) Shakespeare, a sister to William Shakespeare. The conditions of Judith’s life made it impossible for her to write, and so Woolf speculated that the women who would have been writers did not lead the kinds of lives that permitted them to realize their talents. Woolf’s image of Judith Shakespeare is a very powerful one but her speculation is only half right. There undoubtedly were many women in the past who would have been talented writers or philosophers if their lives had been different, but Judith Shakespeare’s image can also blot out our knowledge of women who, contrary to Woolf’s speculation, did exist and did write. Indeed, we know now there were even women who wrote philosophy. These women were in many ways exceptional, for Woolf is quite right that most women did not live either with enough privacy or with enough income to allow them to write. Often, they were members of the aristocracy, whose position enabled them to behave eccentrically, sometimes to be able to demand privacy, and sometimes to be able to invite contacts with leading intellectuals. Quite often, these women were childless, which in an age before birth control made them exceptions to the general rule, and at a time when many women were bearing their last child in their forties, was the only thing that could have given them private time. Nevertheless, research in the last ten or fifteen years has uncovered the work of quite a number of these women: for example, Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia, the Electress Sophie, Queen Christina of Sweden, Queen Sophie Charlotte of Prussia, Anne, Lady Conway, Mary Astell, Damaris, Lady Masham, Catharine Trotter Cockburn, Emilie du Chatelet, Catherine Macaulay, Lady Mary Shepherd, and many more. Woolf’s question then comes up again in a slightly different form. Why is it that the work of these women was for so long unknown? Why do so many people even today remain ignorant of the existence of women philosophers before the present day? I am not going to answer this question directly; in fact, I suspect it has multiple answers. Instead, I am going to present a case study from amongst all the cases of all of these women. I hope by considering the history of this woman, and, in particular, considering the way in which she was read, it will be possible to gain some insights into the ways in which women have failed to be incorporated into philosophical history. The woman I am going to discuss is Lady Mary Shepherd. Mary Shepherd actually falls outside of Woolf’s target date of 1800, since she flourished in the first half of the nineteenth century, but this merely reflects my point about the greater ignorance that prevails about women in philosophy. (shrink)
This book is, as the editor claims, the first collection of essays dedicated to Berkeley’s Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous. It also derives largely from a conference held at Trinity College, Dublin in 2014. The editor, therefore, was somewhat at the mercy of those who submitted papers to the conference to determine the contents of the volume. In pointing this out, I do not intend to be casting aspersions on the quality of the papers included. By and large, the (...) contributors are among the most prominent Berkeley scholars working today and the quality is high. I will want, however, to think about the extent to which this collection provides materials for an overall understanding and assessment of Three... (shrink)
Berkeley has made the bold claim on behalf of his theory that it is uniquely able to justify the claim that snow is white. But this claim, made most strikingly in the Third of his "Three Dialogues," has been held, most forcefully by Margaret Wilson, to conflict with Berkeley's argument in the First Dialogue that, because of various facts to do with perceptual variation, colors are merely apparent and hence, mind-dependent. This paper develops an alternative reading of the First Dialogue (...) arguments, in which their project is not to establish the mind-dependence of colors but instead to undermine the position that colors are also mind-independent. Under these circumstances, the coherence of the First and the Third Dialogue arguments is assured, just so long as the Third Dialogue claim to have established that snow is really white is not taken to mean that snow is mind-independently white, but instead, something like that our experiences of snow are stably and regularly white. (shrink)
Berkeley has been notoriously charged with inconsistency because he held that spiritual substance exists, Although he argued against the existence of material substance. Berkeley is only inconsistent on the assumption that his argument in favor of spiritual substance parallels the rejected argument for material substance. I show that berkeley is relying on quite a different argument, One perfectly consistent with his theory of ideas, Based on presuppositions the germs of which can be found in the thought of his predecessors in (...) the theory of ideas, Descartes and locke. (shrink)
This collection of essays on themes in the work of John Locke , George Berkeley , and David Hume , provides a deepened understanding of major issues raised in the Empiricist tradition. In exploring their shared belief in the experiential nature of mental constructs, The Empiricists illuminates the different methodologies of these great Enlightenment philosophers and introduces students to important metaphysical and epistemological issues including the theory of ideas, personal identity, and skepticism. It will be especially useful in courses devoted (...) to the history of modern philosophy. (shrink)