If this is your first time attending the seminar, please email us in advance at for the Zoom link. (If you attended before: the same Zoom link should work.)

DATE: Tuesday, July 28

TIME: 12 PM Princeton time (EST) / 7 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2) for approx 2 hrs

PANEL: Italian Affairs: Philosophers and Institutions

SPEAKERS: Jonathan Regier (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice) & David McOmish (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice)


Jonathan Regier: “The Philosophy of Threat: Girolamo Cardano and the Roman Inquisition”

Abstract: Girolamo Cardano was the most widely-read natural philosopher of the latter sixteenth century. His literary output and fame stretched across numerous disciplines—medicine, astrology, natural philosophy, moral philosophy, mathematics—and his ideas continued to exert major influence well into the seventeenth century. As diverse as his projects and interests were, a common theme unites them: the individual, by Cardano’s reckoning, lives in a network of visible and invisible threats, from illness and accident, to chance events, to faults of foresight and memory, to professional perils, to the vagaries of ambition and desire. In this talk, I would like to discuss a few examples of how Cardano thought philosophy could counter the threats of daily life. These examples, in turn, were seized upon by Inquisition censors, who operated with a different view of a threatened humanity and how to protect it.

David McOmish: “A Venetian Network and the Reform of Education in Early Modern Edinburgh: The Case of Patrick Sands and his Paduan Circle”

Abstract: This talk will examine evidence of the activities of an network of friends and family operating in Europe and Scotland in the late 16th and early 17th century. The evidence, largely taken from newly discovered source material, reveals a picture of a clearly defined geographical pathway of knowledge exchange from the Venetian Republic to Scotland, spanning a generation (1589-1620). The talk will chart how several key debates within intellectual circles in both Northern and Southern Europe (comets, post-Aristotelian cosmology, new ideas in relation to it) were imported to Edinburgh and will offer some tentative discussion on how these ideas were processed in formal education across the 17th century.


If this is your first time attending the seminar, please email us in advance at for the Zoom link. (If you attended before: the same Zoom link should work.)

DATE: Tuesday, July 21

TIME: 12 PM Princeton time (EST) / 7 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2) for approx 2 hrs

SPEAKER: Scott Mandelbrote (Peterhouse, Cambridge; editorial director of the Newton Project)

PAPER: “Connectedness and Disconnectedness in the History of Philosophy: Or, how we’ve pulled Isaac Newton apart and whether we should put him back together again…”

ABSTRACT: This seminar tackles the extent to which historians and philosophers have treated the oeuvre of a particular philosopher, Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), as a whole. It will explore both the history of Newton’s archive and the history of the treatment of that archive. In particular, it will consider ways in which the archive has been ordered and the choices made by interpreters in selecting from it. It will discuss eighteenth- and nineteenth-century treatments of the archive but concentrate in particular on two phases of the Newton industry: the work of authors who discussed Newton’s writings in the 1980s and 1990s and the important contributions made by scholars of Newton’s chronology, theology, and chymistry in the last seven years. In the process, it will identify both the disassembly of Newton’s various interests and efforts that have been made to view them as a whole. It will ask what we still need to discover about Newton’s archive and what such discovery might tell us about the historical and intellectual connectedness of Newton’s interests.

READING: It would be helpful if those who attend the seminar could familiarise themselves to some extent with the following websites:

The seminar will discuss in particular the following recent contributions:

Those who are able to do so might wish to read in advance: H. Floris Cohen, “Stock and Bulk in the Latest Newton Scholarship”, British Journal for the History of Science, 51 (2018), 687-701 (available here or email us for a copy).

LE: Mordechai Feingold (Caltech) has reached out and asked us to alert the readers of his response to the Floris Cohen essay review. You can find it here or email us for a copy.


If this is your first time attending the seminar, please email us in advance at for the Zoom link. (If you attended before: the same Zoom link should work.)

DATE: Tuesday, July 14

TIME: 12 PM Princeton time (EST) / 7 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2) for approx 2 hrs

SPEAKER: Gideon Manning (Claremont Graduate University, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center)

PAPER: “False Images Do Not Lie: Anatomy, Mechanism, and Teleology in Descartes’s Physiology”


ABSTRACT: The illustrations of the human body and its interior parts appearing in René Descartes’s work tell a distinctive story about the breadth of his knowledge, the extent of his ambition, the details of his philosophical project, and the character of his reception history.  In the medical terminology of the time, which in anatomy stressed the threefold division of historiaactiousus, Descartes’s illustrations are about actio—action or function—and were conceived as an answer to the question of how the body might work and not necessarily how it actually does.  Thus, the illustrations provide an alternative to traditional anatomical illustrations focused on both historia and actio together, i.e., on how the body is actually structured and, given this structure, can be known to function.  By acknowledging the nuance of historiaactiousus thinking in the anatomical tradition, we equip ourselves with a new vocabulary and interpretative clues (and challenges) to understanding Descartes’s functional analysis, teleological commitments, and mechanical philosophy more generally.  To make good on these claims, I will begin with some background discussion of the anatomical tradition and its use of illustrations.  Next I will discuss the several images linked to Descartes’s correspondence with the physician Plempius.  Not only do these images offer the first ever representation of an important experiment on the arterial pulse, they offer the first instance where a single text of Descartes’s is associated with very different images—three in fact, one each in the publications of Plempius, Beverwijck, and Clerselier.  Finally, the last half of the talk will focus on the illustrations included in Descartes’s posthumously published Treatise on Man (1662/1664), a work with its own convoluted paper trail involving multiple manuscripts, a Latin translation published prior to the original French, and (again) three sets of illustrations—one set for the Latin edition and two others for the French edition. My hope is that you will leave the talk having learned something of the value of the history of medicine to the study of early modern philosophy.  


If this is your first time attending the seminar, please email us in advance at for the Zoom link. (If you attended before: the same Zoom link should work.)

DATE: Tuesday, July 7

TIME: 12 PM Princeton time (EST) / 7 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2) for approx 2.5 hrs

SPEAKERS: Barnaby Hutchins (Ghent University), Oberto Marrama (Bar-Ilan University), Ohad Nachtomy (Bar-Ilan University)

PANEL: Mind and Body in Descartes and Spinoza with the following 2 papers:

1. Barnaby Hutchins: “Metaphysical gap-patching: Descartes on why there is no mind–body problem”

Abstract: Once Descartes sets up mind and body as radically independent and causally incompatible, the very evident interaction between the two looks, infamously, like a problem. In other words, the union of mind and body seems to be an explanatory gap in Descartes’s metaphysics—something his dualist system can’t explain. When he’s questioned about this problem, by, e.g., Elisabeth or Arnauld, his response is simply that of course mind and body can interact, because we see that they *do* interact. To Elisabeth and Arnauld, and to most of the subsequent literature, this looks either wilfully obtuse or maddeningly beside the point; it looks as though Descartes is just avoiding the question—he seems to give us a restatement of the fact of mind–body interaction, when we were looking for a metaphysical explanation of *how* they interact.
In this talk, I argue that Descartes’s response does indeed constitute a metaphysical explanation, just not one in the form expected. What’s expected is an explanation in terms of mind and body—but nothing in the notions of mind or body can explain the properties peculiar to the union, so any explanation in those terms is going to fail to get purchase on precisely what it was we were looking to explain. Descartes’s appeal to a primitive notion of union separate from those of mind and body solves that problem, but creates another: what grounds the notion of union? I argue that, rather than grounding it in his dualist metaphysics, he grounds it in embodied experience. It’s the difference in grounding that allows the seemingly incompatible notions of union, on the one hand, and mind and body, on the other, to co-exist (unlike in trialist readings, union is not treated as a substance). In this way, Descartes’s response consists in importing this separately-grounded notion into his metaphysics in order to patch its explanatory gap.

2. Ohad Nachtomy & Oberto Marrama: “Spinoza On The Capacities of the Body and the Wonders of the Mind”

Abstract: In Ethics IIIP2s, Spinoza notes that “the body […] can do many things which its mind wonders at.” As Deleuze points out (1968, 255), Spinoza’s claim that we do not know “what the body can do” (E3p2s) is in effect a cry of war: an ethical cry of war against the Platonic/Augustinian and Cartesian derisive views of the body, seen as taking us away from an intellectual perception of God, and dragging us instead to (morally inferior) things.[1] By contrast, for Spinoza, an adequate knowledge of God and nature necessarily implies knowledge of the body. Rather than taking us away from God, in Spinoza, one cannot come to know God and nature without attending to the body. For Spinoza, the human mind is nothing but the idea of the human body (E2P11-13), and, knowing the human mind involves studying its object — namely, the body. As he makes clear, “The mind does not know itself, except as it perceives the ideas of the affections of the body” (E2P23 and E2P23d). In E5P39s Spinoza explicitly links human cognitive capacities to the capabilities of the human body. We consider three suggestions for realizing such a project: (1) the scientific reading suggested by Nadler (2008)[2] and exemplified by Damasio (2003)[3]; (2) the transition from the “first kind of knowledge” to “intuitive knowledge” (E2P40s2), developed recently by Garber (2019)[4]; (3) a reflective practice involving our physical and mental capacities[5]

[1] Spinoza et le problème de l’expression p. 255. The development of this point here is my own.

[2] “Spinoza and Consciousness”, Mind, Vol. 117, July 2008.

[3] Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain, Harvest, 2003.

[4] “Knowing Mind through Knowing Body: Spinoza on Causal Knowledge of the Self and the External World.” Garber presented this paper in Mexico City, 2018. 

[5] This approach is developed and exemplified by Ohad Nachtomy and Eyal Shifroni in The Psychophysical Lab: Yoga Practice and the Mind-Body Problem, Mudita Books, 2019.


If this is your first time attending the seminar, please email us in advance at for the Zoom link. (If you attended before: the same Zoom link should work.)

DATE: Tuesday, June 30

TIME: 12 PM Princeton time (EST) / 7 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2) for approx 2 hrs

SPEAKERS: Ori Belkind (Tel Aviv University), Elodie Cassan (ENS Lyon), Dan Garber (Princeton University) and Dana Jalobeanu (University of Bucharest)

PANEL: How to Read the Novum Organum, Book II: Logic, Method or Philosophy of Science?

FORMAT: We propose a round-table discussion on the status, structure and meaning(s) of Bacon’s Novum Organum, book II. Each participant will have ten minutes for a statement and then we will open the floor for discussions. 

1. Bacon’s unfinished project: Novum Organum, book II. Is there a “unity” of the Novum Organum, Book II? How does book II stand with respect with book I, and with the other parts of the Instauratio Magna? Why did Bacon publish such an unfinished project? (Dana Jalobeanu)
2. The Novum Organum, book II as a book of logic (Elodie Cassan) 
3. What is the relation between the “method” delineated in Novum Organum, book II and what was called Bacon’s speculative philosophy? (Daniel Garber)
4. How to understand Bacon’s notion of Form and its relation to Bacon’s corpuscularianism? (Ori Belkind)


If this is your first time attending the seminar, please email us in advance at for the Zoom link. (If you attended before: the same Zoom link should work.)

DATE: Tuesday, June 23

TIME: 12 PM Princeton time (EST) / 7 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2) for approx 2 hrs

SPEAKER: Carla Rita Palmerino (Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands)

PAPER: “On the Heuristic and Polemical Function of Early Modern Thought Experiments”

ABSTRACT: Can an experiment which is only performed in the laboratory of the mind generate new knowledge? And is there an essential difference between philosophical and scientific thought experiments? These two questions play a central role in most studies on thought experiments. In this lecture I will discuss the use of thought experiments in the early modern period, when no distinction was made between science and philosophy. I will argue that authors such as Galileo, Locke and Leibniz regarded thought experiments not so much as heuristic instruments, capable of generating new knowledge, but rather as rhetorical and polemical tools helpful to identify the breaking points between competing theoretical frameworks and rival theories. 


If this is your first time attending the seminar, please email us in advance at for the Zoom link. (If you were there the first week: the same Zoom link should work.)

DATE: Tuesday, June 16

TIME: 12 PM Princeton time (EST) / 7 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2) for approx 2 hrs

SPEAKER: Justin E. H. Smith (Université Paris Diderot – Paris VII)

PAPER: “Leibniz, Thomasius, and Capitein on Freedom and Slavery”

ABSTRACT: In 1741 the Ghanaian theologian Jacobus Capitein published in Amsterdam a treatise entitled Slavery, Not Incompatible with Christianity. This work is commonly taken to be a defense of the institution of slavery as such, particularly in its modern trans-Atlantic manifestation. Capitein was a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, and needed to maintain good relations with the Dutch West Indies Company in order for his leadership of an orphanage-school in his home country to be successful. In this light, his argument is often taken to be one produced under political pressure, of political expedience but not of much theoretical interest. However, as I will show, Capitein is in fact deeply immersed in the very interesting philosophical and jurisprudential debates that had unfolded at the University of Halle over the preceding decades, implicating, notably, the Halle philosopher Christian Thomasius. These debates generally centered on theoretical questions of freedom and sovereignty, and tended to draw on precedents in Roman law as a way of gaining insights into the rights of European serfs. An important background text for the Halle debates was G. W. Leibniz’s 1702 Méditation sur la notion commune de la justice. In this talk I will briefly summarize Leibniz’s main concerns here, in the aim, next, of shining some light on the central concerns of the Halle figures who debated freedom and slavery in the 1720s and 1730s, before moving, finally, to the work of Capitein. My interest is to venture an answer to the question: Why does Capitein not speak at all of the African slave trade? Is this a significant silence?  Or does he have different theoretical aims, similar to those of his Halle predecessors, that might justify this omission? 


Please email us in advance at for the Zoom link.

DATE: Tuesday, June 9

TIME: 12 PM Princeton time (EST) / 7 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2)

SPEAKERS: Katherine Brading (Duke) & Marius Stan (Boston)

PAPER: “How Physics Flew the Philosophers’ Nest” (link to full text)

ABSTRACT: Up until the early 17th century (at least) physics and philosophy were not distinct disciplines, as we all know. According to one story, the split took place some time between Descartes’s Principles of Philosophy and Newton’s Principia, but this isn’t right: as of the early 18th century, physics remained a branch of philosophy. This paper is about some of the philosophical developments that transformed physics, and its relationship to philosophy, during the 18th century. Our focus is on matter theory and mechanics.

FORMAT: Please read the paper ahead of time, if possible (full text available here). Our session will begin with an introduction from Katherine and Marius, presenting the motivations and central claims of the paper. This will be followed by discussion of any of the rather broad topics and issues raised in this paper, and/or any of the detailed claims and arguments they make in support of their general thesis.