July 28, 2015

Special journal issue: experience in natural philosophy and medicine

A collection of essays on experience in early modern attural philosophy and medicine is forthcoming as a special issue of Perspectives on Science, 24 (2016), n. 3. The articles discuss the roles and notions of experience in the works of a range of early modern authors, including Galileo Galilei, Francis Bacon, the Dutch atomist David Gorlaeus, William Harvey, and Christian Wolff. The articles extend the evidential basis on which we can rely to identify trends, changes and continuities in the roles and notions of experience in the period of the Scientific Revolution. They shed light on the longstanding influence of traditional views and the emergence of early modern experimental philosophy. Here is a table of contents with links to the abstracts:

Alberto Vanzo, "Introduction" (abstract)
Craig Martin, "The Aeolipile as Experimental Model in Early Modern Natural Philosophy" (abstract)
Helen Hattab, "Aristotelianism and Atomism Combined: Gorlaeus on Knowledge of Universals" (abstract)
Benjamin Goldberg, "William Harvey on Anatomy and Experience" (abstract)
Dana Jalobeanu, "Disciplining Experience: Francis Bacon's Experimental Series and the 'Art' of Experimenting" (abstract)
Gregory Dawes, "Experiment, Speculation, and Galileo's Scientific Reasoning" (abstract)
Matteo Favaretti Camposampiero, "Bodies of Inference: Christian Wolff's Epistemology of the Life Sciences and Medicine" (abstract)


July 21, 2015

Empiricism and Rationalism in Nineteenth–Century Histories of Philosophy

A paper on mine on the process whereby the familiar narrative of early modern philosophy based on the notions of empiricism and rationalism became standard in the English-speaking world is forthcoming in the Journal of the History of Ideas. It is a sequel of my papers on early modern notions of empiric(ism) and on Kant on empiricism and rationalism. You can find a preprint available here and the abstract below:

This paper traces the ancestry of a familiar historiographical narrative, according to which early modern philosophy was marked by the development of empiricism, rationalism, and their synthesis by Immanuel Kant. It is often claimed that this narrative became standard in the nineteenth century, due to the influence of Thomas Reid, Kant and his disciples, or German Hegelians and British Idealists. The paper argues that the narrative became standard only at the turn of the twentieth century. This was not due to the influence of Reid, German Hegelians, or British Idealists as they did not endorse the narrative, although Thomas Hill Green may have facilitated its uptake. The narrative is based on Kant's historiographical sketches, as corrected and integrated by Karl Leonhard Reinhold. It was first fleshed out into full-fledged histories by two Kantians, Wilhelm Gottlieb Tennemann and Johann Gottlieb Buhle. Numerous historians, several of whom were not Kantians, spread it in the English-speaking world. They include Kuno Fischer, Friedrich Ueberweg, Richard Falckenberg, and Wilhelm Windelband. However, the wide availability of their works did not suffice to make the narrative standard because, until the 1890s, the Hegelian account was at least as popular as theirs. Among the factors that allowed the narrative to become standard are its aptness to be adopted by philosophers of the most diverse persuasions, its simplicity and suitability for teaching.

If you have any comments, suggestions, or criticisms, do not hesitate to get in touch.


March 04, 2014

CFP: Teaching early modern philosophy – new approaches

EDIT (2015): the symposium has been published in Metaphilosophy 46 (2015), n. 3. It includes these pieces:

Alberto Vanzo, "Introduction" (abstract)
Jeremy Barris and Paul Turner, "Teaching Early Modern Philosophy as a Bridge between Causal or Naturalistic Accounts and Conceptual Thought" (abstract)
Tamas Demeter, "Before the Two Cultures: Merging the Canons of the History of Science and Philosophy" (abstract)
Jessica Gordon-Roth and Nancy Kendrick, "Including Early Modern Women Writers in Survey Courses: A Call to Action" (abstract)
Sandrine Berges, "On the Outskirts of the Canon: The Myth of the Lone Female Philosopher and What To Do About It" (abstract)
Jacob Affolter, "Challenging the State: Teaching Alternative Historiographies in Early Modern Politics" (abstract)
Kirsten Walsh and Adrian Currie, "Caricatures, Myths & White Lies" (abstract)


Most survey courses in early modern philosophy are informed by a familiar narrative, based on the development of empiricism and rationalism and their synthesis in Kant's philosophy. Over the last few decades, this narrative has come under heavy criticism and is now rejected by many scholars. The narrative focuses primarily on epistemological and metaphysical issues, whereas scores of early modern authors had little interest in epistemology and were driven by natural-philosophical, political, or theological concerns. The traditional classifications of empiricists and rationalists have been questioned. Many regard the standard account of developments within each camp ('Locke begat Berkeley, Berkeley begat Hume') as inadequate. A large body of scholarship has brought to light the historical relevance and intrinsic significance of numerous figures beyond the empiricist and rationalist triads. The omission of women philosophers from the canon is hard to justify and perpetrates deleterious stereotypes. Despite scholars' dissatisfaction with the standard narrative, the narrative still informs most survey courses, manuals, and anthologies. A growing number of teachers are keen to try new approaches to the teaching of lower-level courses (in the American system, or undergraduate courses in the British system). Yet scholarly up-to-date, pedagogically well-thought-out models that they may follow or draw inspiration from are far and wide in between.

To remedy this, Metaphilosophy solicits papers illustrating new ways of teaching lower-level courses on early modern philosophy. The papers will be published in a symposium, guest-edited by Alberto Vanzo (University of Warwick). Submissions may address, among others, the following issues.

- Should teachers focus on a narrow set of canonical authors and if so, which ones? If we should abandon the very idea of a canon and follow the contextualist approach that is popular in recent scholarship, what criteria should guide teachers' selection of philosophical problems, texts, and authors?

- Scholarly developments have helped us make better sense of the relation of early modern philosophical doctrines with political events and with developments in a wide range of disciplines, from medicine to theology. Taking these developments into account has proven necessary to correctly understand several arguments of early modern philosophers. How much weight should teachers give to the ways in which philosophical developments were influenced by non-philosophical factors, vis-à-vis focusing on the internal logic of philosophers' arguments?

- The early modern period saw significant shifts and disagreements on the nature, tasks, and methods of philosophy. How can these be highlighted in low-level courses, so as to familiarise students with competing stances on the nature of philosophy and its relation to the natural sciences?

- Teachers are sometimes torn between competing demands and expectations: that they give students a historically accurate understanding of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophies, which include unpalatable or idiosyncratic claims, and that they highlight the continued relevance of those philosophies to current-day discussions, at the risk of reinventing (instead of merely reconstructing) early modern views when the gulf between past and present appears too wide. How should teachers balance these tendencies in low-level courses?

- How can one effectively integrate areas, traditions, and figures that were traditionally marginalized (e.g. moral philosophy, women philosophers) within the curriculum, rather than simply juxtaposing them with standard topics and authors? How can teachers of lower-level courses give their due to the scores of Aristotelians, school philosophers, and other 'losers' of early modern philosophy?

Deadline for submissions is 1st October 2014. Manuscripts should be prepared according to the guidelines available at http://bit.ly/metaphl and should be submitted via email or regular mail to:

Metaphilosophy
Department of Philosophy
Southern Connecticut State University
New Haven, CT 06515, USA
Email: metaphil@southernct.edu

For information, please email Alberto Vanzo (alberto.vanzo@email.it).


February 15, 2014

From Empirics to Empiricists

A paper of mine on the origins of a widely used notion of empiricism is forthcoming has been published in Intellectual History Review and is available here and here. It is entitled "From Empirics to Empiricists" and it expands on topics touched elsewhere in this blog, here and here. Please find the abstract below. A preprint is freely available here [pdf] and the published version is available here to journal subscribers.

Although the notion of empiricism looms large in many histories of early modern philosophy, its origins are not well understood. This paper aims to shed light on them. It examines the notions of empirical philosopher, physician, and politician that are employed in a range of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century texts, alongside related notions (e.g. "experimental philosophy") and methodological stances. It concludes that the notion of empiricism that is employed in many histories of early modern thought does not have pre-Kantian origins. It first appeared and became widely used in late eighteenth-century Germany, in the course of the early debates on Kant's Critical philosophy.


November 25, 2013

Teaching Early Modern Philosophy

I believe that there is a rather worrying disconnect between the ways in which many specialists view early modern philosophy and the way in which it is presented in most manuals, anthologies, and lower-level courses. These follow the old-fashioned narrative based on the conflict between Locke's Berkeley's, and Hume's empiricism vs Descartes', Spinoza's, and Leibniz's rationalism. Many specialists have abandoned that narrative, and with good reasons. A growing number of teachers are keen to try new approaches to the teaching of lower-level courses. Unfortunately, there are few scholarly up-to-date, pedagogically well-thought-out models that they may follow or draw inspiration from. These materials are freely available online:

  • Daniel Garber's syllabus for a module entitled "Philosophy and the Scientific Revolution" is presented here [pdf]. The syllabus covers Descartes, Bacon, Galileo, Boyle, Locke, Leibniz, and Newton.
  • Here [pdf], Susan Neiman outlines a course in early and late modern philosophy that focuses on the issues of evil and God.
  • Mark Larrimore makes some suggestions for a syllabus on evil in early modern philosophy here [pdf].
  • Eugene Marshall outlines an interesting strategy to introduce "minor" figures within lower-level early modern philosophy courses on the Mod Squad blog. Also on the Mod Squad blog, some ideas on how to teach survey courses are discussed here and here.

Do you have any suggestions on how to teach lower-level courses on early modern philosophy? If so, I would love you to get in touch.

EDIT: see also a paper by Eugene Marshall here.

EDIT2: and the call for papers here.


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