A note on the text 7

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Part I, then, mainly analyses the ramifications of the dualist, post-Cartesian (but not necessarily pro-Cartesian) picture of the mind-body relationship in fields beyond those currently surveyed by philosophers and historians of science. Part II introduces issues surrounding the definition of what constituted empirical research at this late stage of the Scientific Revolution; and it ends by suggesting that, within the mainstream natural philosophy of the period, there were accounts of reason as embodied. The notion that modern philosophy began with Descartes may thus be shown to breed confusions regarding the nature of the questions to which it has led.
5. Choice of sources

The many voices I discuss, apart from those of Bacon, Harvey, Descartes, Malebranche and Locke, are mostly of ‘minor’ - as opposed to canonical - figures from France and England. Because of the abundance of sources and exchanges, together with the interconnection of themes and the variety of views, what I offer is a necessarily biased selection, informed by a concern not only to reveal them with historical accuracy, but also to let them speak to us about the issues which remain important today. Some fundamental aspects of the period, as well as names and schools of thought, have had to be left out of this study. Great thinkers such as Spinoza and Leibniz, who found highly inspiring alternatives to mechanism and atomism, do not appear here precisely because they are exceptional. Hobbes, another great exception, appears in Part I, but only briefly. Some pages might have been devoted to Pascal and to Jansenism, but that would have taken us off-track. There is also the matter of space: to do justice to the great thinkers and to the secondary literature on them would have been impossible in the limited context of this dissertation. Neoplatonist alternatives, especially the views of the Cambridge Platonists, are excluded from this account for the same reason, but also because such alternatives to the corpuscularian philosophies do not help explain why the latter eventually became dominant. Moreover, an investigation of the Cambridge Platonists would have to consist in a study in the metaphysics of mind, which is not the purpose here.

Those who do appear here owe their presence, however, to outstanding qualities. Glanvill was wonderfully eloquent about scepticism (though equally so about the existence of witches). Cordemoy can be considered a forerunner of Malebranche; and both he and La Forge espoused Cartesianism in a novel, important way. Bayle has earned a place in intellectual history on account of his monumental Dictionnaire historique, his elaborate, foundational use of footnotes, his erudition, prolixity and scepticism. Pardies was a Jesuit with apparently Cartesian sympathies, well-known for his work in geometry, physics and optics, which had an influence on Newton. He and Dilly were also known for their controversy about animal minds, which, in many ways, reflected intense but confusing disagreements over the possible dangers inherent in overthrowing Aristotelianism for the sake of Cartesianism. Chanet and Cureau de la Chambre confronted each other earlier on, but for similar reasons. Cureau de la Chambre was a physician to Louis XIV and a dedicatee of Steno, who himself had unusual, but widely respected ideas about anatomy. Willis remains a major, influential figure in the history of neurology and psychiatry. Perrault’s breadth of activities and interests, as well as his connections with the Paris establishment, make him a central character on the official French scene. Lamy was a materialist when few dared to be, as well as an intriguing, quarrelsome, polemical physician and anatomist.

These, and other authors in the account, may be familiar to historians of medicine; still others will be familiar to historians of science. The context in which they appear, however, as I have indicated, is not that of the history of science or medicine. It should be pointed out, too, that the focus here is exclusively on the life sciences - physics makes only a tangential appearance: there is no mention of Newton, for example, just as I have not taken into account the important and well-studied relationship, especially in Italy, of the Jesuits to physics and mathematics and to assaults on Aristotelianism.24 Many more treatises of the period on the corporeal soul, anatomy and physiology could likewise have been included. Italian and German natural philosophers are virtually absent as well (there is one Dane, Steno, but he worked for a while in Paris, on his way to Italy). The reason for these limitations is, again, partly lack of space; but it is also because France was the epicentre of arguments about Cartesianism, and England of arguments about empiricism. The relationship between the two traditions is rich and complex; and it has consequently been given priority over the concern to draw a complete picture of the pan-European, politically intricate web of relations between natural philosophers at the time,25 such as it was reflected, for example, in the activities of Athanasius Kircher.26
6. Relevant scholarship

It has not been possible for me to consult all the vast quantity of secondary literature which has been written over the past fifty years or so on the two major areas that make up the subject-matter of this dissertation: on the one hand, epistemology and metaphysics, the philosophy of science, the philosophy of mind and the cognitive sciences; and on the other, early modern intellectual history broadly understood. There is a plethora of literature concerning the subjects included in the first area, some instances of which I have referred to in the footnotes to sections 1-3 of this Introduction (and the number of books on mind and consciousness destined for the specialist as well as the non-academic public increases every month). Material on the great seventeenth-century philosophers who treated it is also more than abundant. Descartes, Locke, Hobbes, Leibniz and Spinoza are routinely integrated within the philosophical curriculum. Descartes and Locke, especially, are points of reference in the study of epistemology and the philosophy of mind. All these thinkers constitute fields of research in their own right, along with those who remain more historical than canonical, such as Gassendi or Malebranche, and who are studied mainly within the history of philosophy and ideas.

The intellectual and political worlds in which these philosophers worked is also a thoroughly ploughed terrain, although its findings tend not to inform significantly the actual practice of philosophy. It is now established within the general field of intellectual history, however, that one needs to contextualize the thought of the great, canonical figures, if only to understand better where they were coming from, and why they became - and remained - canonical in the first place. This is what the Cambridge Companion series has done for Bacon, Descartes, Locke, Malebranche, Spinoza, Leibniz and others. The recently published Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Philosophy is contributing to broadening the field.27 The history of education is an important tool for understanding the intellectual situation; Laurence Brockliss, for example, provided a magisterial work on education in France.28 Michael Hunter has been editing the correspondence of Boyle and has completed the edition of his complete works;29 he has also written extensively on the history of science in England in its social, political, religious and generally intellectual context.30 The history of scepticism in the England of the period was traced many years ago by Henry Van Leeuwen,31 while the complexity of philosophical reactions to Cartesianism has been studied by Richard Watson32 and Albert Balz.33 Amos Funkenstein has provided an in-depth analysis of the relationship between metaphysics, rational theology and natural philosophy from the Middle Ages to the early modern era.34 (There also exists a tradition of writing on the notion of interiority in the seventeenth century, which I have not followed here.)35

Descartes’s sources and background have been much analysed by, among others, Henri Gouhier;36 and more recently, Stephen Gaukroger in his illuminating biography.37 Gaukroger also co-edited a volume on Descartes’s natural philosophy,38 now studied along with his metaphysics. His Augustinianism has been studied by Stephen Menn,39 and his relationship with scholasticism by Roger Ariew.40 Daniel Garber has written extensively on Descartes both as an historian of ideas and as a philosopher.41 Roger Woolhouse has explored the concept of substance in Descartes, Leibniz and Spinoza but with a view to embracing the period rather than figures isolated from one another.42 Studies on the impact of Cartesianism in Germany,43 Holland44 and Italy45 have been added to our previous knowledge of its fate in France and England. Margaret Osler and Lynn Joy have produced fundamental work on Gassendi.46 Steven Nadler’s Arnauld and the Cartesian Philosophy of Ideas47 was heavily immersed in the Cartesian and Jansenist context in which Arnauld thought, focusing in particular on the controversy with Malebranche; Nicholas Jolley’s The Light of Nature includes a detailed account of Malebranche’s theory of ideas, along with that of Descartes and Leibniz.48 Susan James has written on theories of the passions, though confining herself largely to the canonical figures.49 Anthony Levi’s work on theories of the passions in France is an earlier classic.50 André Robinet, for his part, has investigated mainstream French philosophy, theory of language and metaphysics in the seventeenth century, from Descartes to Arnauld, Malebranche and Leibniz, notably producing an edition of the Leibniz-Malebranche correspondence.51 Editions of correspondences in general have been giving us a more accurate picture of how concepts developed through the intense interaction of scholars and thinkers, and thus feeding into the history of scholarship, as well as the history of science.

The history of science tends to overlap with the history of philosophy. The pre-1950s classic by Arthur Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being, had the ambition to trace, as its subtitle indicated, ‘the history of an idea’ in a broad sweep through the complexities of man’s relation to nature.52 More prosaically, and more recently, Ernst Mayr’s history of biological thought is a useful work of reference which bridges the philosophy of science and its history, helping to understand, for example, where Darwinian theory came from.53 Henry Harris has traced the history of the cell from Hooke onward,54 while, some fifty years ago, Walther Riese55 and F. N. L. Poynter56 produced histories of neurology in terms of ideas about brain function and localization. Andrew Pyle has analysed forms of atomism from Democritus to Newton and John Yolton a history of theories of perception from Descartes to Reid. 57 The classic study by Jacques Roger on the sciences of life,58 and especially on early Enlightenment theories of reproduction and generation, remains an invaluable source of information on a world where natural history, natural philosophy and metaphysics were dependent on one other. In the 1950s, Jean Ehrard provided a study of the ramifications of the idea of nature for a slightly later period,59 as did Bernard Tocanne later on, for the second half of the seventeenth century.60 The relationship of Hobbes to the Royal Society was a central aspect of a much-discussed work by Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer.61 Shapin’s introductory book The Scientific Revolution contains an excellent, commented bibliographical guide, with a particular slant towards the historiography of studies on the relation between the creation of scientific knowledge, religion and politics.62 Catherine Wilson, in a vein close to Peter Dear on experiment,63 has analysed the complex relation between theory and practice specifically with regard to the introduction of microscopes as a tool of enquiry in the 1660s.64 Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park’s study of wonders, gestated over many years and published in 1998, traces more broadly the psychology of scientific enquiry over five centuries in the context of the changing status of nature and of explanations of natural and supernatural phenomena;65 their bibliography is another useful reference tool. Dennis Todd’s Imagining Monsters did something similar for eighteenth-century England.66 These works also fit into the category of the ample literature on the social and political history of scientific practice and academies,67 which is related to the history of epistemology but on which I have not relied to any great extent in this dissertation.

In the realm of the history of medicine and anatomy, Edwin Clarke and C. D. O’Malley’s compilation of historical texts on The Human Brain and Spinal Cord remains a useful source book,68 as does Edwin Clarke and Kenneth Dewhurst’s An Illustrated History of Brain Function.69 There are a number of recent interdisciplinary volumes covering key aspects of the history of seventeenth-century medicine and physicians.70 Roy Porter’s history of madness in England, Mind-Forg’d Manacles, analyses not only the social history of what we understand as ‘psychiatry’ but also its intellectual and ideological underpinnings.71 The body itself, as a historical object, is today in vogue. Jonathan Sawday has explored what was involved in the study and dissection of the body in the early modern period,72 while the bodies of scientists are scrutinized in a volume edited by Christopher Lawrence and Steven Shapin.73

As for the history of ideas about animal minds, it has been studied in the context of the evolution of the idea of nature, for instance, in Keith Thomas’s Man and the Natural World,74 which concentrates on England. Elizabeth de Fontenay’s recent Le silence des bêtes, on the other hand, focuses on animal minds, but is mainly confined to France.75 Leonora Cohen Rosenfield’s book on the beast-machine thesis in early modern philosophy has been a standard work for decades.76 The seventeenth-century debate has been explored in a special issue of the periodical Corpus;77 and articles abound on various aspects of the topic, including its classical and Renaissance sources.78 The philosophical debate is connected to ethical questions about the status of man in nature, like those posed some twenty years ago by Mary Midgley in her Beast and Man,79 and analysed by Peter Carruthers.80 Laura Bossi’s forthcoming history of the soul also engages in the ethical issues inherent in our relationship with the non-human animal world, tracing the shifts in this relationship as they appear in science, philosophy and general letters from antiquity to our day.81

To the best of my knowledge, however, here again there is a dearth of literature which bridges the philosophical issues underpinning contemporary work on animal minds with the history of these issues.82 Similarly, I have found few analyses of the relationship between theories on animal minds and the place of human language in the configuration of the mind-body problem at the time. The state of the literature that falls into the category which Jonathan Rée, in the afterword (and subtitle) to his history of deafness, I Hear a Voice,83 has called ‘philosophical history’ - and philosophical history is what I have tried to write - is just as difficult to pin down. This might be because philosophical thought must treat its objects as open, and its outcome as open-ended, whereas the history of philosophical thought is less concerned with constructing arguments than with reconstructing the concepts which thinkers in the past have explicitly used to defend their ideas.

It might appear that Michel Foucault would be an unavoidable reference in a history of the kind I have undertaken; he has not, however, been a primary intellectual source for this project. I was mostly inspired by the concept-driven history of science of Georges Canguilhem84 and, to an extent, of Gaston Bachelard.85 Both William James’s Principles of Psychology86 and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phénoménologie de la perception87 bridge philosophy and psychology in ways I also find inspiring. The approach guiding Élie During in his compilation of extracts from key texts on the soul is close to what I have attempted to do in this project.88 André Pichot’s compilation of texts on the notion of life is a helpful guide.89 Some thirty years ago, Ian Hacking provided what was then a new reading of the birth of the science of probability in an attempt to integrate historical narrative and conceptual drama.90 More recently, John Sutton has provided a sophisticated example of how to combine the historical exegesis of philosophical texts on the nature of memory, whether well known or relatively ‘obscure’, with an explicit effort to relate them conceptually to models of mind discussed today, especially connectionism.91 His approach is similar, if only in its foundations, to the one I have adopted, although he has dared to analyse an historical model of mind in terms of a contemporary one in much more explicit terms than I do. Catherine Wilson92 was also interested in analysing conceptually the confusions about the nature of scientific knowledge in the seventeenth century, but within a strictly historical framework; reading her book helped me to define my thinking more sharply.
It will emerge from this investigation that, as the foundations of modern science were established on the grounds of a scepticism about the scope of human knowledge, what has since been identified as an ‘explanatory gap’ was an intrinsic part of seventeenth-century accounts of the relation between mind and body. Today, it is easy to forget this early modern connection between scepticism and the claims of science. A few years ago, the evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson suggested that the reason why ‘the history of modern philosophy, from Descartes and Kant forward, consists of failed models of the brain’, is that what ‘has been learned empirically about evolution in general and mental processes in particular suggests that the brain is a machine assembled not to understand itself, but to survive’.93 That the brain has had to ‘survive’ must be true. But Wilson’s assertion presupposes that there exists a scientific account of what the brain is (a machine); that this account can be formulated entirely in terms of the machine’s finality (survival); and that the evolutionary hypothesis overrides the brain’s incapacity to understand itself while also constituting a scientific explanation for this incapacity. The explanatory gap is here replaced with evolutionary theory. A physicist, by contrast, might be given to wonder why any effort at all should be expended on an organ (the brain) and a phenomenon (consciousness) which no ‘hard’ science will ever entirely explain, regardless of the causes of this nagging blind spot. This ‘hard’ scientist would agree with Wilson that no one knows what is really involved in ‘thinking’, but unlike him would not offer to explain why this is the case. On this view, questions about the nature of reason would be scientifically irrelevant, the philosophy of mind redundant and the presence of an explanatory gap unproblematic.94

I invite the reader to an exploration of these sceptical grounds as they stood three hundred years ago, in the hope that it may help us decide whether or not such a point of view can be justified.


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