Ideas and Mechanism

Ideas and Mechanism: Essays on Early Modern Philosophy

Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 544
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    Ideas and Mechanism
    Book Description:

    For more than three decades, Margaret Wilson's essays on early modern philosophy have influenced scholarly debate. Many are considered classics in the field and remain as important today as they were when they were first published. Until now, however, they have never been available in book form and some have been particularly difficult to find. This collection not only provides access to nearly all of Wilson's most significant work, but also demonstrates the continuity of her thought over time. These essays show that Wilson possesses a keen intelligence, coupled with a fearlessness in tackling the work of early modern philosophers as well as the writing of modern commentators. Many of the pieces collected here respond to philosophical issues of continuing importance.

    The thirty-one essays gathered here deal with some of the best known early philosophers, including Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, Spinoza, and Berkeley. As this collection shows, Wilson is a demanding critic. She repeatedly asks whether the philosophers' arguments were adequate to the problems they were trying to solve and whether these arguments remain compelling today. She is not afraid to engage in complex argument but, at the same time, her own writing remains clear and fresh.Ideas and Mechanismis an essential collection of work by one of the leading scholars of our era.

    Originally published in 1999.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6498-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-2)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Skepticism without Indubitability
    (pp. 3-9)

    InPhilosophy and the Mirror of NatureRichard Rorty traces the emergence of “foundationalist epistemology . . . as the paradigm of philosophy.”¹ According to Rorty, a key step in this development was Descartes’s un-Aristotelian construal of “sensory grasp of particulars” as “mental” (54). The resulting conception of the mind as “an inner arena with its inner observer” “permitted” the seventeenth century “to pose the problem of the veil of ideas, the problem which made epistemology central to philosophy” (51). Thus Descartes, by “carving out inner space,” “simultaneously made possible veil-of-ideas skepticism and a discipline devoted to circumventing such skepticism”...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Descartes on Sense and “Resemblance”
    (pp. 10-25)

    Descartes begins theMeditationswith the stated purpose of overthrowing those of his ‘former beliefs’ that allow of doubt, in the hope of erecting in their place a ‘firm and permanent’ scientific structure. His first step is to withdraw his ‘trust’ from the senses, on the grounds that they have sometimes ‘deceived’ him. ‘Whatever I have up to now accepted as most true, I have received either from the senses or through the senses; however, I have sometimes found these to deceive; and it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once’ (AT VII 18).¹...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Descartes on the Perception of Primary Qualities
    (pp. 26-40)

    Throughout his writings Descartes contrasts “sensations” of color, sound, taste, and so on with ideas of size, shape, position, and motion. The former are merely “confused” ideas, which fail to “resemble” any quality existing in physical reality: they must be “attributed to sense.” In thePrinciples of Philosophy,for instance, he remarks of color:

    when we think we perceive colors in objects although we do not know what this might be, that we call by the name of color, and we cannot understand any similarity between the color which we suppose to be in objects and what we experience to...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Descartes on the Origin of Sensation
    (pp. 41-68)

    Descartes holds that it is “the mind that senses, not the body,”¹ but he clearly believes that certain motions in the brain play a crucial role in all episodes of sense perception. Most readers of Descartes, from the seventeenth century to the present, have taken the role in question to be that of efficient causality: states of the brain are supposed toproducesensations in the mind. Beginning with Descartes’s contemporaries, however, many critics have objected that there is something peculiarly suspect, unintelligible, or even inconsistent in the notion that an extended unthinking thing (body) interacts causally with an unextended...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Descartes on the Representationality of Sensation
    (pp. 69-83)

    Throughout his writings Descartes identifies our ordinary experiences of color, odor, heat and cold, and other so-called sensible qualities as mere sensations which have a purely mental status. He consistently and emphatically denies that they “resemble” any quality that does or can exist in physical reality. Yet in the Third Meditation he seems to construe such sensations as “ideas of” cold and the like, whichmisrepresent“what cold is” to the mind. Their “falsity” consists in representing what is not a real physical quality as if it were. He presents this view as a corollary of the assumption thatall...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Descartes: The Epistemological Argument for Mind-Body Distinctness
    (pp. 84-93)

    Descartes’s mind-body dualism is the aspect of his philosophy that has been most often cited and discussed in recent philosophical writing. Yet there has been, it seems to me, surprisingly little serious effort to gain an accurate understanding of his position. In another paper ([6]) I have tried to show that Cartesian dualism, as Descartes himself understood it, differs in both content and motivation from the view sometimes called “Cartesian dualism” in recent discussions of the mind-body problem. The differences derive, especially, from Descartes’s conception of the possibilities and limitations of mechanistic physical explanation, and his peculiar contention that “the...

  11. CHAPTER 7 True and Immutable Natures
    (pp. 94-107)

    In the Fifth Meditation Descartes introduces the notion of “true and immutable natures.” He says that these natures (or essences) are the contents of some of the “ideas” that he finds within himself; and he attempts to establish that they are quite different from any thought-contents that he might haveinvented.Initially he presents this notion as exemplified by geometrical concepts—which in turn he is trying to present as providing the fundamental principles of physical science:

    And what I here think is most worthy of consideration is that I find m me innumerable ideas of certain things which, even...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Can I Be the Cause of My Idea of the World? (Descartes on the Infinite and Indefinite)
    (pp. 108-125)

    In his first argument for the existence of God in Meditation III, Descartes argues that his idea of God requires a cause outside himself. As a finite substance, Descartes (considered as a mind) possesses within himself enough reality or perfection to be the cause of each of his other ideas. The implication is that all of these other ideas represent only finite substances, or their (finite) modes. “There remains only the idea of God” which, representing an infinite substance, cannot be explained by Descartes’ own causal resources.

    This reasoning has a strange feature, when considered in relation to other prominent...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Objects, Ideas, and “Minds”: Comments on Spinoza’s Theory of Mind
    (pp. 126-140)

    Both specialist commentators and writers of textbooks commonly take Spinoza to have staked out a position on “the mind-body problem” of modern western philosophy. There is, of course, much disagreement on how his position should be characterized. Some are willing to endorse such labels as “a sort of material ism,” a “double-aspect theory,” or whatever. Others deny that Spinoza’s position fits neatly into any of the commonly accepted categories—though they may suggestlimited affinitieswith central state materialism, the Strawsonian theory of persons, and so forth. In the recent English-language literature, at least, critics who hold different views about...

  14. CHAPTER 10 Spinoza’s Causal Axiom (Ethics I, Axiom 4)
    (pp. 141-165)

    Treatments of causality in seventeenth-century philosophy present the interpreter with a peculiar problem. On the one hand, the notion of causality is central to the period’s major positions and disputes in metaphysics and epistemology. On the other hand, few of the most prominent figures of the period enter into detailed or precise accounts of the relation of causal dependence or causal connection. As a result, one is often left with only the most exiguous materials for dealing with some of the most important and far-reaching interpretive issues.

    Spinoza is an interesting case in point. Most of the best-known, most characteristic...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Infinite Understanding, Scientia Intuitiva, and Ethics 1.16
    (pp. 166-177)

    Spinoza defines ‘substance’ partly in terms of the way in which substance is conceived: “By substance I understand that which is in itself, and is conceived through itself: that is, that the concept of which does not need the concept of another thing, from which it must be formed” (EI.Def. 3).¹ But the following definition of ‘attribute’ suggests an even more central connection between this concept and that of a certain way of knowing: “By attribute I understand that which understanding perceives of substance, as constituting its essence” (EI.Def. 4). And the link between attributes and understanding is...

  16. CHAPTER 12 “For They Do Not Agree in Nature with Us”: Spinoza on the Lower Animals
    (pp. 178-195)

    Spinoza is often praised for maintaining an anti-Cartesian conception of “the mind” which conforms, at least in some respects, to certain mainstream present-day philosophical positions. The human mind, for Spinoza, is not an absolute, simple entity radically distinct from the natural order (as Descartes held): an autonomous substance lodged within the bodily machine, and capable of intervening in the material world through free acts of will with causal impact on the body. On the one hand, Spinoza maintains that all physical phenomena whatsoever, including (one must suppose) what we think of as “intelligent behavior,” are susceptible of explanation within the...

  17. CHAPTER 13 Superadded Properties: The Limits of Mechanism in Locke
    (pp. 196-208)

    Locke’s official, familiar position on the affections of body runs as follows. All the qualities of a body belong to one of the following classes; primary, secondary, or the “third sort” (known in the literature as tertiary). Primary qualities are all and only the essential or universal qualities of body,

    such as are utterly inseparable from the Body, in what estate soever it be; such as in all the alterations and changes it suffers, all the force can be used upon it, it constantly keeps; and such as Sense constantly finds in every particle of Matter, which has bulk enough...

  18. CHAPTER 14 Discussion: Superadded Properties: A Reply to M. R. Ayers
    (pp. 209-214)

    In a recent article M.R. Ayers has indicated that my paper, “Superadded Properties: The Limits of Mechanism in Locke,” involves an erroneous interpretation of Locke.¹ It seems clear to me, however, that Ayers has seriously misconstrued the purpose and content of my paper. I acknowledge that there may be some significant differences between Ayers’ and my readings of Locke’s position on mechanistic explanation and superaddition. But it is hard to determine exactly what these are, given Ayers’ peculiarly misleading and oblique account of my views. Most of the points he insists on I never deny; and he emphatically denies points...

  19. CHAPTER 15 Did Berkeley Completely Misunderstand the Basis of the Primary-Secondary Quality Distinction in Locke?
    (pp. 215-228)

    According to leading seventeenth-century philosophers and scientists, our sensory “ideas” of physical objects are of two importantly different types. Certain sorts of ideas, the “ideas of primary qualities,”resemblequalities actually existing in the object. While there are some differences about whatexactlythese comprise, size, shape, motion or rest, and number are among the accepted examples. (Locke, notoriously, includes “solidity”; he sometimes mentions position. Gravity, as we will see below, was sometimes included later.) On the other hand, the “ideas of secondary qualities” do not resemble any quality really existing in the object, although they are systematically produced by...

  20. CHAPTER 16 Berkeley on the Mind-Dependence of Colors
    (pp. 229-242)

    Berkeley developed his theory that physical objects are just congeries of sensory “ideas” in deliberate opposition to the materialist scientific realism of his seventeenth century predecessors. An important component of his position is the claim that physical things are as they are perceived: that the senses do not systematically mislead us about the physical world. In maintaining this view Berkeley self-consciously sides with “common sense” against the prevailing philosophical assumption that mechanistic corpuscularian science provides a conception of physical reality superior to the vulgar. Thus he defends the status of perceived (or phenomenal) colors, tastes, warmth and cold, and so...

  21. CHAPTER 17 Berkeley and the Essences of the Corpuscularians
    (pp. 243-256)

    In thePrinciples and the DialoguesBerkeley repeatedly connects his defence of the unproblematic reality of things as we sensibly experience them with the denial that we are ignorant of ‘the internal constitution, the true and real nature’ of physical objects. The issue is raised insistently in theThird Dialogue,particularly towards the beginning. Hylas keeps asserting that the restriction of our knowledge to the sensible appearances of things means that it is not possible for us ever to know the real nature of any thing in the universe, ‘what it is in itself’ (Dialogues, 227). As he further explains...

  22. CHAPTER 18 The Issue of “Common Sensibles” in Berkeley’s New Theory of Vision
    (pp. 257-275)

    Claims about similarity or likeness on the one hand, and heterogeneity or difference on the other hand, figure prominently in many of the most characteristic arguments of Berkeley’s philosophy. For instance, Berkeley relies on a “resemblance” notion of representation in denying that we have ideas of spirits;¹ in maintaining that our own spiritual selves provide knowledge of other finite spirits and even of God;² and in holding that ideas of imagination represent actual ideas of sense by virtue of being copies or resemblances of them. Further, “likeness and conformity among phenomena” are the basis of our ability to formulate laws...

  23. CHAPTER 19 Kant and “The Dogmatic Idealism of Berkeley”
    (pp. 276-293)

    In the “Critique of Pure Reason” Kant maintains that space and time are (merely)a prioriconditions of our perceptual experience—mere “forms” under which our sensible objects must appear. Thus space and time have no claim to reality independent of us, of our experience: they are “transcendentally ideal.” Similarly, the objects we perceiveinspace and time are also said to be transcendentally ideal: since their character is determined by the spatial and temporal conditions of our experience, they have an intrinsic dependence on us. Kant contrasts these mind-dependent or conditional perceptual objects (“appearance”) with the realm of the...

  24. CHAPTER 20 The “Phenomenalisms” of Berkeley and Kant
    (pp. 294-305)

    Of all the major modern philosophical systems the views of George Berkeley have probably met with the most resistance, ridicule, and distortion. Among Berkeley's many detractors and distorters was Kant, who represented Berkeley as a “dogmatic idealist” who “degraded bodies to mere illusions.” (B71) 1 As has frequently been pointed out, however, Kant's few direct remarks about Berkeley are not unrelievedly negative. In theProlegomenaparticularly, Kant acknowledges a limited affinity with Berkeley, pointing out that they agree in treating space as idea;.² Kant goes on to indicate that he differs from Berkeley in regarding space as a priori rather...

  25. CHAPTER 21 The Phenomenalisms of Leibniz and Berkeley
    (pp. 306-321)

    The two great German philosophers of the early modern era, Leibniz and Kant, overlapped Berkeley’s life at opposite ends. Each was aware of Berkeley, and had at least some knowledge of his early philosophy. (Berkeley’s Principles ofHuman Knowledgewas published in 1710, when Berkeley was about twenty-five, and Leibniz was in his sixties. When Berkeley died in 1753, Kant was about thirty years old.) Kant’s philosophy–which he himself called “transcendental idealism”—has been linked to Berkeley’s idealism or phenomenalism through a long tradition, going back to the contemporary Garve-Feder review of the first Critique. Numerous works in English...

  26. CHAPTER 22 Confused Ideas
    (pp. 322-335)

    It is widely known that Leibniz was severely critical of Descartes’s use of the notions of clear and distinct (versus obscure and confused) ideas. Commentators frequently cite with approval Leibniz’s various statements that a “criterion” or “mark” of clarity and distinctness is required, if the notions are to have any epistemological value. Leibniz’s own, very pervasive, use of the notions of distinctness and confusion in ideas is less frequently examined. With the exception of some excellent, but largely expository work by Robert McRae, this aspect of Leibniz’s philosophy does not seem to have received much systematic consideration in the English...

  27. CHAPTER 23 Confused vs. Distinct Perception in Leibniz: Consciousness, Representation, and God’s Mind
    (pp. 336-352)

    The notion ofperceptionplays a fundamental and mysterious role in the philosophical systems of both Spinoza and Leibniz. Both philosophers depart from the relatively commonplace Cartesian notion of perception as a conscious state of a rational mind (human or higher) that “exhibits” or represents to that mind some entity which may (or may not) exist outside the mind. Spinoza holds thateverybody in nature is the “object” of a “mind” that perceives it, and indeed perceives “everything that happens” in it. (EIIpl2)¹ The mind and its proper object (its body) are in some sense one and the same...

  28. CHAPTER 24 Leibniz and Locke on “First Truths”
    (pp. 353-372)

    In the XVIIth century the venerable Aristotelian-Scholastic doctrine that the principle of non-contradiction is the first truth of knowledge became a focus of philosophical controversy. Quietly rejected by Descartes, the doctrine was finally made the object of an all-out attack by Locke.¹ The impatience of these “moderns” with the Scholastic position is understandable. If the principle was intelligibly to be regarded as the foundation of certain knowledge, it must be shown how other certain or necessary truths could be reduced to or derived from it, and this the Scholastics had not effectively done. Moreover, both Descartes and Locke were convinced...

  29. CHAPTER 25 Leibniz: Self-Consciousness and Immortality in the Paris Notes and After
    (pp. 373-387)

    Descartes held that the immortality of the mind followed from the indestructibility of substance¹. According to Spinoza the mind is a mode rather than a substance; he nevertheless also believed that some form of immortality is not only true but demonstrable. Thus, according toEthicsV, xxiii, when the human body perishes not all of the mind is destroyed with it, but "something remains that is eternal”. The Cartesian and Spinozistic approaches to the proof of immortality, different as they are, both omit to connect the doctrine of immortality with any conception of phenomenological self-consciousness, or sense of selfidentity, let...

  30. CHAPTER 26 Leibniz and Materialism
    (pp. 388-406)

    Seventeenth-century discussions of materialism, whether favorable or hostile towards the position, are generally conducted on a level of much less precision and sophistication than recent work on the problem of the mind-body relation. Nevertheless, the earlier discussions can still be interesting to philosophers, as the plethora of references to Cartesian arguments in the recent literature makes clear. Certainly the early development of materialist patterns of thought, and efforts on both the materialist and immaterialist side to establish fundamental points in the philosophical analysis of mind, have considerable historical interest at the present time. This paper attempts to clarify the significance...

  31. CHAPTER 27 Possible Gods
    (pp. 407-420)

    Certain recent commentators have convincingly argued that this famous definition from Leibniz’sDiscourse on Metaphysicsis tied in with a characteristic and unique Leibnizian position on the dependence of an individual’s identity on his properties. The latter position has been appropriately dubbed (by Fabrizio Mondadori) “super-essentialism.”² Super-essentialism is the view that all of a given individual’s properties are essential to him; to suppose a change of properties is tantamount to introducing a different individual. Leibniz allows that for any individual (say Adam or Sextus) who inhabits the actual world, there will be other possible (but non-actual) beings who share some...

  32. CHAPTER 28 Leibniz’s Dynamics and Contingency in Nature
    (pp. 421-441)

    In 1699 Leibniz wrote to a correspondent:

    My Dynamics requires a work to itself . . . you are right in judging that it is to a great extent the foundation of my system; for it is there that we learn the difference between truths whose necessity is brute and geometrical, and truths which have their source in fitness and final causes.¹

    And about a decade later he remarks in theTheodicy:

    This great example of the laws of motion shows us in the clearest possible way how much difference there is among these three cases, first,an absolute necessity,...

  33. CHAPTER 29 Compossibility and Law
    (pp. 442-454)

    The notion of compossibility performs two related functions in Leibniz’s philosophy. It helps to explain why not all possibles (possible substances) are actual: not all possibles are compossible, or such that they can existtogether.And it underlies the partitioning of possibles into differentpossible worlds: a possible world is just a set of compossible possibles (and, it seems, there are infinitely many of these worlds).

    But what is the basis of compossibility? Generally Leibniz regards a possible as that the concept of which is free from self-contradiction. To illustrate impossibility in a concept Leibniz cites the example of “the...

  34. CHAPTER 30 History of Philosophy in Philosophy Today; and the Case of the Sensible Qualities
    (pp. 455-494)

    Recent decades have seen a tremendous outpouring of books and papers on figures and topics in the history of western philosophy. This remarkable scholarly production has accompanied, and has been reinforced by, a wide range of important editorial and translation projects, and the promotion of forums for oral exchange, including ad hoc conferences of every sort and size, and societies devoted to the ongoing study of the philosophies of individuals, periods, or ideological traditions. At one time—not that long ago—English-speaking philosophers interested in historical topics often talked mainly to each other. (Or at least those interested in certain...

  35. CHAPTER 31 Animal Ideas
    (pp. 495-512)

    In December of 1648 Henry More, the Cambridge Platonist, wrote to Descartes:

    . . . There is none of your opinions that my soul, gentle and tender as it is, shrinksfrom as much as that murderous and cutthroat view youmaintain in theDiscourse,that deprives the brutes of all life and sense. . .¹

    That the gentle and tender More should resort to such fierce terminology helps to illustrate in somewhat extreme form, the significant interest among seventeenth and eighteenth-century philosophers in the topic of beasts’ mentality. Often expressions of this interest are tied in with a traditional...

    (pp. 513-514)
  37. INDEX
    (pp. 515-524)