Meeting 72

We are using the same link as last spring. If you don’t have it, email us at

DATE: December 6

TIME: 1:30 PM Princeton time (ET) / 8:30 PM Bucharest time (UTC+2)

PANEL:  Some Aspects of Leibniz’s Philosophical Theology

SPEAKERS: Paul Lodge (University of Oxford), Henry Straughan (Yale University ) and Asne Grogaard (University of Oxford)


Leibniz’s Early Emanationist Cosmogony

Åsne Grøgaard (University of Oxford)

In this talk, I will discuss the extent to which Leibniz can be said to have subscribed to an emanative cosmogony before and during his Paris period (1668–1676). I will argue that although ‘emanation’ is often being used to denote a Spinozist tendency in Leibniz, there are other emanationist traits in his early cosmogony that an overly Spinozist reading tends to miss. I will present and discuss the most important of these emanationist traits, including what I believe to be an overlooked similarity between the Neoplatonic notion of mediated creation and the young Leibniz’s vortex theory. However, although I believe there are good reasons to see Leibniz’s early cosmogony as emanative, there are crucial differences between the Leibnizian conception of God as a mind and a person and the Neoplatonic One. I will end by examining whether these can be reconciled.   

Fiction, Genealogy, and Myth in Leibniz’s Theodicy

Paul Lodge (University of Oxford)

Toward the end of the Preface to the Theodicy, Leibniz suggest to the reader that he will lighten the ‘seriousness’ of the subject matter by ‘conced[ing] something to curiosity.’ He then mentions three discussions that occur at different points in the book: a ‘pleasing chimera of a certain astronomical theology’, ‘The ancient error of the two principles, which the Orientals distinguished by the names Oromasdes and Arimanius’, and ‘the small dialogue ending the Essays.’ I explore the content and rhetorical methods that Leibniz employs in these passages, each of which involves an appeal to the telling of stories. The presentation is offered in the spirit of curiosity and is intended to open up space for further consideration of the significance of the Theodicy for our understanding of Leibniz’s deepest concerns.

“But pain somehow passes into pleasure, and the wretched rejoice at finding something by which they are tormented”: Leibniz’s salvific response to the complaint of the damned

Henry Straughan (Yale University)

In the Confessio Philosophi Leibniz attempts to answer the “complaint of damned”, the damned’s complaint that God has treated them unjustly by creating the world in such a way that their misery was inevitable. Answering this complaint is of highest importance for Leibniz since he believes that to doubt God’s justice, his wise love for every person, is itself to risk damnation. Leibniz responds to the complaint by arguing that it cannot coherently be made, because the damned freely will their own damnation. This surprising response is made possible by Leibniz’s psychology of damnation according to which the damned take pleasure in their hatred of and resistance to God. In this talk I examine Leibniz’s psychology of damnation and his pragmatic motivation for engaging with the complaint of the damned, as well as the light these cast on Leibniz’s theory of misery and happiness.


Meeting 71

We are using the same link as last spring. If you don’t have it, email us at

DATE: November 22

TIME: 1:30 PM Princeton time (ET) / 8:30 PM Bucharest time (UTC+2)

PANEL:  Hryhorii Skovoroda: The Variety of Knowledge and the Unity of Wisdom

SPEAKERS: Maria Grazia Bartolini (University of Milan), Erica Camisa Morale (USC), Victor Chernyshov (Yuri Kondratyuk Poltava Polytechnic) and Natalia Pylypiuk (University of Alberta)


Hryhorii Skovoroda (1722-94) lived the last twenty-five years of his life as a wandering philosopher; conducted his life as an example for his disciples and made it the incarnation of his thought. His life is characterized by an extraordinary intellectual freedom, which caused him conflicts with authorities and institutions. After his death, scholars neglected him and his works for almost a century and, in the 1960s, focused their attention more on his eccentric figure and on his life as a iurodivyi (fool in Christ) than on his work and thought. Nevertheless, Skovoroda’s writings have significantly contributed to the beginnings of East Slavic philosophy, and Joseph Brodsky has even considered him one of the major Slavic poets.

In Skovoroda’s thought, classical philosophy, the biblical and the patristic traditions, and Western reasoning interweave in an original manner. Such a phenomenon, defined as mnogokul’turie (cultural syncretism), characterizes eighteenth-century East Slavic culture. What distinguishes Skovoroda’s work is that, in his thought, cultural syncretism becomes the means to create a system that is able to include the apparently antithetical figures of Christ and Socrates, and Augustine and Epicurus.

The panel deals with the complexities of Skovoroda’s works: Natalia Pylypiuk explains how Skovoroda was the product of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in which he studied, focusing especially on the reception of the thought of Epicurus; Maria Grazia Bartolini illustrates the heterogeneous sources of his thought, particularly his relationship with Italian Renaissance Neoplatonism; Victor Chernyshov shows how Skovoroda’s poetry, philosophy, and theology combine in forming a unique system of knowledge Erica Camisa Morale demonstrates how such diverse cultural traditions merge in Skovoroda’s poems and how poetry is functional to expressing the experiential nature of his thought.


Skovoroda, a Product of the Neo-Latin Curriculum

Natalia Pylypiuk (Professor Emerita, University of Alberta)

The adoption of the humanistic (i.e., neo-Latin) school’s curriculum by Kyiv’s Orthodox elite in the early seventeenth century had a revolutionizing impact on the culture of Early-Modern Ukraine. It not only affected the attitude of the Orthodox toward classical and sacral languages, but also made them accept the legacies of classical Greek and Roman thought as part of their own inheritance. I would argue that the impact of that epochal academic reform is still felt today when we observe how contemporary Ukrainians view such concepts as liberty and civic responsibility.

Hryhorij Skovoroda, the last Mohylanian poet and philosopher of significant stature, demonstrates the impact of those early-seventeenth century pedagogical reforms in a variety of ways. For example, most of his correspondence is written in Latin. His philosophical colloquies, written in a mixture of Slavonic, Russian and Ukrainian, exhibit the principles and humor of Erasmus’ Colloquia familiaria. His poem in honor of Bohdan Khmelnytskyi makes use of a traditional school exercise devoted to resolving the question: “What is more precious than gold?” (aurea libertas/golden liberty).
My paper will propose that Skovoroda was very much the product of the neo-Latin school. By comparing his poetic garden with the gardens composed by Andrew Marvell, I will demonstrate how the thought of Epicurus was transmitted and Christianized (to a greater or lesser degree) through the neo-Latin curriculum.

Skovoroda, Zoroaster, and the prisca theologia

Maria Grazia Bartolini (Associate Professor of Slavic Philology, University of Milan)

In this paper, I reconstruct the source of a Greek verse attributed to Zoroaster in Skovoroda’s dialogue Kol’tso (1773–74). In demonstrating that the source of the pseudo-Zoroastrian verse is the anonymous Hymni orphici, a fifth-century text first printed in Florence in 1500 (Ορφεως Αργοναυτικα), I also discuss the relationship between Skovoroda and Renaissance Neoplatonism. In particular, I show that Skovoroda follows the tradition of Marsilio Ficino and his notion of perennial wisdom, or prisca theologia, in considering the philosophy of the ancients (Plato, Orpheus, Zoroaster) to be different temporal manifestations of a perennial Truth, which achieved its final synthesis in the Christian religion. Besides Ficino, other sources known and read by Skovoroda – Augustine and Clement of Alexandria – emphasized the compatibility of the Platonic and Neoplatonic traditions with Christianity.

Gregory Skovoroda: Between Poetry, Philosophy, and Theology

Victor Chernyshov (Associate Professor in the General Linguistics and Foreign Languages Department, National University “Yuri Kondratyuk Poltava Polytechnic,” Poltava)

The presentation focuses on three basic elements that constitute Gregory Skovoroda’s creative work and his worldview: poetical, philosophical, and theological. I am going to demonstrate how these three elements determine Skovoroda’s inner life and spiritual development and, in their own turn, undergone a substantial transformation. Aestheticism of a poet overlapping with philosophical introspection in strive for acquiring three Christian theological virtues – faith, hope, and love – enable Skovoroda to penetrate into the deepest mystery of human existence and arrive to the main discoveries of his creative life and work. The presentation is to contribute to a deeper understanding of Gregory Skovoroda’s texts in the light of his spiritual biography and vice versa.

“Life Is Like a Song.” The Poet and Philosopher Skovoroda

Erica Camisa Morale (Dornsife Fellow in General Education, USC)

In this presentation, I consider Hryhorii Skovoroda’s thought through his collection of poems, Sad bozhestvennykh pesnei (The Garden of Divine Songs), and demonstrate how his poetry expresses the Socratic aspect of his philosophical meditations, namely his notion of knowledge as a process. This is especially apparent in The Garden, where Skovoroda presents an individual’s being, knowledge, and ethical and spiritual evolution as one and the same. In The Garden, the speaking “I” is the protagonist of the narrated experiences, so his teachings do not emanate from a superior source but from the “I”’s own life. The speaker shares with us what he has learned about human nature, and about human relationships with God and the universe, as he is learning. In this way, the reader witnesses the emergence and the development of the speaker’s thought, starting from his lived experiences. So, poetry is not merely a means of expression for Skovoroda, but a tool for divine ascension. The speaker himself states this in song 30: “Life is like a song” (Ushkalov, Grigorii Skovoroda, 85). Standing for poetry, a song is, like life, “not beautiful for its length, but beautiful for its goodness,” and is able to grant humans “comfort and happiness… sweetness of the heart” (Ibidem).

Meeting 70

Please note that the seminar is now at 1:30 PM ET.

We are using the same link as last spring. If you don’t have it, email us at

DATE: November 29

TIME: 1:30 PM Princeton time (ET) / 8:30 PM Bucharest time (UTC+2)

PANEL: Divine Attributes and Infinite Substance in Descartes’ Metaphysics

SPEAKERS: Andrea Christofidou (University of Oxford) and David Cunning (University of Iowa)


David Cunning:

Descartes is famous for emphasizing the simplicity of God. In the May 1630 letters to Mersenne he writes: “In God willing and knowing are a single thing in such a way that by the very fact of willing something he knows it and it is only for this reason that such a thing is true” (CSMK24). Later in Principles I.23 he says that “there is always a single identical and perfectly simple act by means of which [God] simultaneously understands, wills, and accomplishes everything” (CSM 1:201). 

In this paper I inquire into Descartes’ view that the mere rational distinction between the attributes of a substance is still a distinction that has a foundation in reality (“To ***, 1645 or 1646,” CSMK 280). 

In numerous passages Descartes reflects that a substance just is its attributes: for example, a thinking substance is its thought (Principles I.63, CSM 1:215), a material substance is its extension (Ibid.), a substance is its existence (“To ***, 1645-1646, CSMK 280), and a substance is its duration (Principles I.62, CSM 1:214). A worry of course is that if a substance is just identical to its attributes, there is no way to get an independent foothold on the nature of any of those attributes: each is identical to the others, and the others are identical to it. Here I inquire into Descartes’ view that the rational distinction between a substance and its attributes has a foundation in reality. I argue (1) that Descartes faces systematic pressure to drive a very slight wedge between the divine attributes, and (2) that his view that rational distinctions have a foundation in reality gives

him room to do so. There are serious limits to what Descartes will say about such a wedge, but there are serious limits to what he will say about almost any metaphysical matter.

Andrea Christofidou:

A number of commentators argue that Descartes’ metaphysics is committed to the identity of divine attributes and infinite substance, referred to as the “Identity Interpretation.” (For example, Nolan1997; Rozemond 1998; Kaufman 2003; Nelson 2013.) It is the attribution of the Identity Interpretation that prompts my enquiry. 

My aim is to examine this attribution and whether Descartes holds or ought to hold an identity thesis. There are three central questions that need to be addressed and clearly elucidated if we are to understand Descartes’ metaphysics in this area. First, what kind of distinction is there between the divine attributes, and between them and the divine substance? Secondly, what kind of relation is there between the divine attributes, and between them and the divine substance? These two questions depend upon an answer to the third question: what is the ontological status of the categories of attribute and substance? 

Any clear understanding of the ontological status and ordering of these categories, however, cannot be achieved without invoking one of Descartes’ most important principle: the Principle of Degrees of Reality or Perfection. Yet, this principle is almost invariably ignore by the defenders of the Identity Interpretation. 

With this framework in place, I turn to Descartes’ conceptual or rational distinction on which the controversy centres. He distinguishes between a distinction rationis ratiocinatae, founded in reality, which he accepts, and a distinction rationis ratiocinantis, made by our reason without foundation in reality,which he rejects. I demonstrate that the Identity Interpretation vitiates not only Descartes’ central principles, but his entire metaphysics. 

Before concluding, I consider various passages that might be used against my defence, and I respond to them. If my responses are cogent, then they – together with my preceding discussion – will rebut the Identity Interpretation, thus offering a clear, unified, and deeper understanding of this complex area of Descartes’ metaphysics. 

Meeting 69

Please note that the seminar is now at 1:30 PM ET.

We are using the same link as last spring. If you don’t have it, email us at

DATE: November 22

TIME: 1:30 PM Princeton time (ET) / 8:30 PM Bucharest time (UTC+2)

PANEL:  Cartesianism, Baconianism and the new science: Henry Power’s Experimental Philosophy

SPEAKERS: Dana Jalobeanu (ICUB-Humanities & Department of Theoretical Philosophy, University of Bucharest), Christoffer Basse Eriksen (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Oana Matei (ICUB-Humanities, University of Bucharest and Vasile Goldis Western University of Arad)


History of philosophy pictures much of the seventeenth century in terms of the spreading tides of Baconianism and Cartesianism; one permeating from France into England, the other from England to the Continent. Two parallel movements that had nothing in common: one was either a Baconian, experimental philosopher, or a Cartesian, speculative thinker. In this session we are going to challenge, indirectly, this canonical interpretation by reconstructing the views of a Baconian-Cartesian (or Cartesian-Baconian) natural philosopher: Henry Power (1623-1688). Trained as a medical practitioner, in Cambridge, dr. Power had a longstanding interest in Cartesian natural philosophy while, as we are going to show, he was in many ways a Baconian… and perhaps other things as well.

Henry Power’s manuscripts and the making of the Experimental philosophy

Dana Jalobeanu (ICUB-Humanities & Department of Theoretical Philosophy, University of Bucharest)

For most of his contemporaries, Henry Power was the author of a single book, the Experimental philosophy. In this paper, I will show that this book is just the tip of a very large iceberg. It contains carefully organized experimental series based on research that Power did for almost twenty years. By looking at some of Power’s manuscripts I aim to illuminate the composition and structure of this curious book, showing that it was explicitly put together as a Baconian project, i.e, a science built on carefully constructed natural and experimental histories. In my talk, I will focus mostly on the first part of the Experimental philosophy, showing that what looks like random microscopical observations are, in fact, interestingly connected experimental series aiming to uncover the causes of generation and the nature of the animated beings. Taken together, these investigations can be seen as continuing one of Bacon’s unfinished projects, that of a science of life.

Perfectly epitomized: Atoms and preformation in Henry Power’s natural philosophy

Christoffer Basse Eriksen (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Since the 1628 publication of De motu cordis, English anatomists were testing the limits and possibilities of William Harvey’s theories of circulation and generation. One of these anatomists was Henry Power, who wrote his first treatise as a defence of the Harveian model of the body, and who continued to tease out its consequences throughout his career. Interestingly, these enquiries led Power to formulate a theory of preformationist generation. In this talk, I argue that Power’s theory of preformationism was intimately linked to his theory of atoms as he argued that “these fructifying particles or Atomes, (be they never so minute) are indeed the whole plant perfectly there epitomized.” The theory also served as one of the impetuses for his program of microscopical observations. Through microscopes, he believed, it was possible to see generation play out as the mere enlargement of already existing preformed atoms. In the talk, I trace how Power developed these ideas throughout his career: From his first botanical observations made as a student at Cambridge, to his correspondences with Thomas Browne, and finally to his only published work, the Experimental Philosophy (1664).

Corpuscles and spiritual matter: Henry Power’s observations on plants in Experimental Philosophy

Oana Matei (ICUB-Humanities, University of Bucharest and Vasile Goldis Western University of Arad)

This presentation inquires into Power’s microscopical observations on plants included in his Experimental Philosophy, suggesting that, in explaining the natural process of plant generation, Power worked not only with corpuscularian hypotheses but also with an approach that stresses the spiritual character of matter. I suggest that experiments with plants were not used by Power to reconcile Cartesian corpuscularianism with a neo-Platonic approach to spiritual matter. Instead, their purpose was rather to clarify, with the help offered by microscopcial observations, the nature of seeds and their role in the process of generation of plants, whether containers of the ultimate division of matter (atoms) or “cabinets,” “laboratories” where nature produce diverse things. The Cartesian theory of atoms as the last divisions of matter together with the view on living beings as machines with similar structures prove for the preformist approach to seeds as containers of the small living being that will go through a process of enlargement. However, some observations on plants included in Experimental Philosophy seem to point in the direction according to which seeds have vitalist properties and perform transformations in matter.

Meeting 68

Please note that the seminar is now at 1:30 PM ET.

We are using the same link as last spring. If you don’t have it, email us at

DATE: November 15

TIME: 1:30 PM Princeton time (ET) / 8:30 PM Bucharest time (UTC+2)

PANEL:  Some Aspects of Spinoza’s Legacy

SPEAKERS: Richard J Elliott (Birkbeck College, University of London), Steph Marston (Birkbeck College, University of London), Dan Taylor (Open University, UK), Marie Wuth (University of Hamburg)


The Demands and Rewards of an Anti-Dogmatic Epistemology

Steph Marston, Associate Research Fellow, Department of Philosophy. Birkbeck, University of London.

Spinoza holds that someone who has a true idea not only knows its truth but also cannot do other than express it. Yet he also stipulates that even people who know true ideas should express them in forms which are acceptable within particular social or political contexts. I suggest that the basis of this injunction to self-censorship is to be found in Spinoza’s theory of affect, which makes clear the hazards of epistemic over-confidence and generates a radical anti-dogmatism within Spinoza’s epistemology.  I put this analysis to use in drawing out the demands which Spinozist anti-dogmatism places on all knowers, and the philosophical rewards it may be expected to bring.

Racial Imaginaries: Spinoza on the Power of Narratives in Politics

Marie Wuth, Research Associate. University of Hamburg.

Spinoza’s TTP as well as his theory of affects and knowledge, specifically of the imagination, elucidate the power of narratives and their pivotal meaning for our coexistence and politics. As I shall argue, narratives, which are an offspring of our imagination, are vital in order to find orientation in the world and, therefore, meaningful for organising coexistence, which I understand to be the task of politics. Narratives structure time and space and give meaning to the past, present and future. Thus, they frame our experience and shape the ways in which we relate to one another, to history, places and institutions. By bringing Spinoza into conversation with Frantz Fanon, I will emphasise the political power of narratives and how they can be used to include and exclude people from time and space. In this context, I shall introduce Fanon’s understanding of imagination and racialisation to sharpen the concept of racial imaginaries. Thereby, I wish to draw attention to the meaning of narratives and highlight their role in construing and upholding oppressive societal structures. Nevertheless, given narratives’ inherent ambivalence and ambiguity they not only hold the potential for structural disempowerment but also the promise for mutual and inclusive empowerment as Spinoza and Fanon can help us to see.

Between Prejudice and Potential Multitudinis: the Puzzle of Ingenium in Spinoza’s Politics

Dan Taylor, Lecturer in Social and Political Thought. The Open University UK.

In the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Spinoza sets out how states can become freer and more secure through harnessing the affects, imagination and desire of subjects toward the common good. But this process is not straightforward. Erstwhile statesmen must accommodate themselves to the ingenium of the people (meaning, variously, ‘mentality’, ‘socio-cultural character’). While ingenia vary as much as people do – what might move some to religion may move others to mockery, as Spinoza drily remarks – he draws on a Tacitean view of common national characteristics, effected through histories, customs and beliefs. This ‘stubborn’ and inalienable ingenium to a large extent drives the actions of the people. How should readers of Spinoza understand ingenium then –  inert, stubborn and prejudiced, but also variable, malleable and pertaining to a capacity to reason and act? I explore some recent efforts before turning to the problem of education and citizenship in Spinoza.

Whither Spinoza in Heidegger’s Historical Critique of Metaphysics?

Richard J. Elliott, Postdoctoral Fellow. British Society for the History of Philosophy.

It is remarkable that Heidegger near-totally fails to discuss Spinoza in his historical critique of metaphysics. Further, it is bizarre that this has gone near-totally unnoticed. My paper focuses on two important aspects of Spinoza’s Ethics that would have been greatly pertinent to the later-Heideggerian critique of metaphysics. I offer a reconstruction putting Spinoza in dialogue with this critique, through the prism of both Heidegger’s voluminous critique of Nietzsche, and also through Nietzsche’s explicit affirmation of Spinozist themes predicated on the primary objects of Heidegger’s critique. These objects are 1) the metaphysical status of power, and 2) how the disposition to gain the most privileged knowledge of nature leads to our dominance (via a form of intellectual encroachment) over it, thereby for Heidegger concretizing our greater alienation from it. I conclude with some brief comments on why we ought to rule out the lowest common denominator reason for Heidegger’s omission of Spinoza, namely his arguably one-time endorsement of anti-Semitism.

Meeting 67

Please note that the seminar is now at 1:30 PM ET.

We are using the same link as last spring. If you don’t have it, email us at

DATE: November 8

TIME: 1:30 PM Princeton time (ET) / 8:30 PM Bucharest time (UTC+2)

PANEL:  The Emergence of Idealism

SPEAKERS: Dávid Bartha (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin) and Hanoch Ben-Yami (Central European University, Vienna)


We consider the reasons for what is arguably the first occurrence of idealism as a possibility, in Descartes’ writings, and those that made Berkeley and Collier later adopt it.

Descartes and the Possibility of Idealism

Hanoch Ben-Yami

Idealism emerged following Descartes’ work and is first mentioned as a possibility in his writings, a conclusion of his arguments that lead to scepticism about the existence of a material world together with the cogito, leading to certainty about the existence of the subject as a mind. Descartes’ scepticism is close to Ancient ones, yet the Ancient sceptics never mentioned the possibility of idealism, a difference which requires explanation. – I show how this possibility results from Descartes’ representational theory of perception together with his view on the immaterial nature of the mind and of the material world as pure extension. Although often presented as a result of a priori philosophical considerations, Idealism, even as a mere possibility, is derived from a complex of theories about knowledge, perception, the mind and more, a complex first found in Descartes’ writing.

More Routes to Idealism? Some Remarks on the Origins of Early Modern British Immaterialism

Dávid Bartha

Early modern British idealists, George Berkeley and Arthur Collier, develop immaterialism in slightly, but importantly, different ways. These differences, I believe, spring from their fundamentally different theological assumptions and philosophical methodologies. Nonetheless, both seem to be primarily interested in exploiting the metaphysical and conceptual problems of matter. This suggests that the epistemological turn Descartes is often said to make—and which, as Burnyeat, Ben-Yami and others claim, raised the very possibility of idealism at the dawn of modern philosophy—had little to do with their adoption of idealism. In this talk, I attempt to spell out this admittedly controversial narrative by considering the role theological, metaphysical, and epistemological considerations played in informing and motivating Berkeley and Collier’s arguably unprecedented endorsement of immaterialism.

Meeting 66

Please note that the seminar is now at 1:30 PM ET. Due to the fact that Daylight Saving Time ends in Europe but not the US this week, that means 7:30 PM in Bucharest.

We are using the same link as last spring. If you don’t have it, email us at

DATE: November 1

TIME: 1:30 PM Princeton time (ET) / 7:30 PM Bucharest time (UTC+2)

PANEL:  Leibniz on Quantity, Magnitudes and Numbers

SPEAKERS: Filippo Costantini (University Ca’ Foscari of Venice/McMaster University) and Jeffrey Elawani (McMaster University/Université de Paris)


Leibniz’s Mereological Characterization of Quantity 

Filippo Costantini (University Ca’ Foscari of Venice/McMaster University) 

The aim of this talk is to present the coordinates of Leibniz’s theory of quantity in his more abstract form. In  the first part I shall present Leibniz’ notion of homogeneity, which plays a pivotal role in his definition of the  part-whole relation, and which lies at the ground of his reflections on the notion of quantity. According to  Leibniz, similar things (namely things that share all their qualitative properties) are always comparable with  regard to their magnitude. The notion of homogeneity allows him to generalize the comparability to things  which are not strictly speaking similar. In this way, homogeneous things are exactly those things that are  quantitatively comparable. 

In the second part, I shall analyze in detail Leibniz’s notion of quantity. In particular, I shall focus on the  following points: the link between quantity and mereology as expressed by the idea that “quantity is the  property of a whole insofar as it has all its parts” (GM VII 30); the definition of ‘less than’ and the claim that  the whole is always bigger than its parts; the claim that the whole is equal to (namely it has the same  quantity as) all of its parts (which is referred to by Leibniz as one of the most important axiom of  mathematics). Finally, I shall introduce the notion of integer number, and explain how the previous results  shed light on this latter notion. 

Estimating quantity: the procedure for knowing how much of a thing there is

Jeffrey Elawani (McMaster University/ University of Paris) 

In the 1690s, Leibniz says repeatedly that Mathesis Universalis is the science of (the method of) estimation  or of quantity taken universally (GM VII, p. 53; Leibniz (2018), p. 188; GM VII, p. 38). Mathesis Universalis  would provide a general procedure for comparing any kind of quantities whatsoever, be they abstract :  numbers, planes or lines, or concrete: forces, speeds or laws. In my talk, I want to focus on the nature of  this procedure which presents itself, in many occurrences (GM VII, pp. 35-40; Leibniz (2018), p. 205);  Rescher (1955)) as a generalization of Euclid’s algorithm for finding the greatest common divisor between  two magnitudes. I will make the distinction between two senses of estimation, one of which consists in the  procedure of measuring exactly (to any degree of desired precision) a quantity. From there, I will touch on specific aspects of the method of estimation: how it works as compared to the Euclidean algorithm, to what  things it applies and what criterion of equality it yields between quantities. Afterwards, I will touch upon  more philosophical questions: how much Leibniz’s view resemble our representation of real numbers  through continued fractions; how measure actually relates to homogeneity whose definition is sometimes  spelled out in terms of common measure; in which sense the general procedure can be said to yield one  unique concept of quantity; and whether or not it gives a characterization of continuous magnitudes.

Meeting 65

We are using the same link as last fall. If you don’t have it, email us at

DATE: Tuesday, May 31

TIME: 1 PM Princeton time (ET) / 8 PM Bucharest time (UTC+2)

PANEL: Anton Wilhelm Amo

SPEAKERS: William Eaton (Georgia Southern University), Dwight Lewis (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities) and Justin Williams (Georgia Southern University)


Soberly Disputing: Amo’s Rules of Interpretation

Dwight Lewis

Amo on the Spatial Simplicity of the Soul

William Eaton & Justin Williams

Anton Wilhelm Amo was an Eighteenth Century philosopher from Ghana who taught at the University of Halle and the University of Jena, before returning to Ghana.  Amo’s unique conception of the human soul has significant advantages over the views of some of his contemporaries, and even anticipates a recent theory of the self endorsed by Roderick Chisholm, satisfying one condition of a successful theory better than Chisholm’s own view.  To reconcile aspects of Aristotelianism with Descartes’s philosophy, Amo argued, contrary to Descartes, that the soul has a spatial location within the body.  While he agreed with Descartes both that material objects are extended in space, and that the soul is immaterial, Amo also held that the soul has a spatial location as an extensionless but active point in space.  This view avoids some of the problems that besieged Cartesian physics, and satisfies Chisholm’s condition that the self be an ens nonsuccessivum (an entity that is not made up of different things at different times). Furthermore, it does this in a more straightforward manner than Chisholm’s own theory that the self is a microparticle located somewhere in the brain. 

Meeting 64

We are using the same link as last fall. If you don’t have it, email us at

DATE: Tuesday, May 24

TIME: 1 PM Princeton time (ET) / 8 PM Bucharest time (UTC+2)

PANEL: Some Relations of the Mind in Malebranche

SPEAKERS: Julie Walsh (Wellesley College), Eli Benjamin Israel (Temple University) and Hans Shenk (Temple University)


Malebranche on What We Owe To Each Other

Julie Walsh

Love is a central theme in Malebranche’s philosophical system. He describes the motivation for all human action as deriving from the love of the good in general, which is to say, God. This love of the good in general is instantiated in everyday life by our pursuit of things that we perceive as pleasurable and our avoidance of things that we perceive as painful. In short, Malebranche is a hedonist about human action. He devotes an entire book, Traité de l’amour de Dieu (Treatise on the Love of God, 1697), to explaining how he understands the compatibility of his commitment to hedonism with his commitment to the injunction to only love God for Himself and not because loving God causes pleasure. Across many of his other texts Malebranche describes sin as the mistaken belief that finite objects are the appropriate objects of our love. Malebranche’s hedonism and the difficulty of reconciling it with the kind of love appropriate for God have received attention in the secondary literature.There is one facet of Malebranche’s view on love, however, that has not been widely discussed: his endorsement of the commandment to love your neighbor, which he characterizes as a duty.

When we attend to the manner in which Malebranche thinks we ought to fulfill the duty to love our neighbor, an inconsistency arises. Loving our neighbor, for Malebranche, requires more than merely holding positive attitudes about them; it requires action in the form of conversation and socialization. But, Malebranche also cautions us against performing actions of precisely this sort. He goes on at length about the dangers associated with congress with other people because of the contagious nature of their disordered minds. This inconsistency raises the question of how Malebranche thinks we can fulfill the duty of actively loving our neighbors while not risking contamination from their disordered minds. In short, according to Malebranche, what do we owe each other? My aim here is to answer this question.

Merrit and Pleasure in Malebranche’s Theory of Love

Eli Benjamin Israel

Malebranche’s moral theory is built upon the Love of God. In loving Him, we learn how to love and give preference to beings and things according to their levels of perfection or how close they are to divinity. In this paper, I will address a problem within Malebranche’s moral psychology regarding the determining grounds of our love of God, as he is not entirely clear about what ultimately motivates this feeling, and we might think that it has two different and independent motives: Merit and pleasure.

 By merit, I point to the love of God that comes from recognizing Him as the most perfect creature of all, the summit of all goods, and therefore worthy of our love. By pleasure, I refer to the love of God that comes from recognizing Him as the highest source of pleasure and happiness. Malebranche wants to say both loves are necessary and, at the same time, merit is the sole determinant of the moral law. However, he also claims that each one of them is a sufficient motive for the love of God. This characterizes a possible problem of overdetermination in Malebranche’s moral psychology. Namely, two distinct sufficient causes might bring one to love God, and thus, moral principles (order or relations of perfection, in Malebranche’s terms) might be equally determined by merit and pleasure. This poses a big challenge for Malebranche since moral principles are not necessarily rational if that is indeed the case. In this essay, I will argue that pleasure is indeed a necessary element of the love of God. However, it is only a necessary consequence of this love and, based on the structure of love defended by Malebranche, it can never play a role in its determination. This will set reason as the sole determinant of our love of God, avoiding the overdetermination problem.

What Astronomers are Thinking: Malebranche on Knowing Other Minds

Hans Shenk

Malebranche devotes considerable portions of The Search After Truth to explanations about what people are thinking and what their minds are like. To explain what other people are thinking and what their minds are like requires knowing what other people are thinking and what their brains are like, so how does Malebranche come to know so much about other minds? He writes that we know other minds only through conjecture, and his explanation of what he means by “conjecture” is vague, and it isn’t immediately clear that conjecture as he describes it can justify his claims about other minds. Previous attempts to expand and clarify his account are misaligned with his broader system and can’t clearly justify his claims about other minds.

In this paper, I review a sample of Malebranche’s claims about other minds, summarize his account of “conjecture,” review existing interpretations and explain their problems, and propose a new interpretation of Malebranche’s account of conjecture. I also note that textual evidence suggests that Malebranche intends some statements about the body-dependent contents of other minds as educated speculations rather than certain truths.

Based on this evidence, I argue that Malebranchean conjecture is a series of inferences based on two basic truths—that other minds exist, and that God acts uniformly in all created minds—that we discover through our union with divine reason, and our experience of the modes of our own mind.

Meeting 63

We are using the same link as last fall. If you don’t have it, email us at

DATE: Tuesday, May 17

TIME: 1 PM Princeton time (ET) / 8 PM Bucharest time (UTC+2)

PANEL: Spinoza’s Compendium Grammatices Linguae Hebraeae

SPEAKERS: Ioana Bujor (University of Bucharest), Massimo Gargiulo (Pontifical Gregorian University), Pina Totaro (ILIESI) with comments by Zeev Harvey (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)


Ioana Bujor:

Spinoza’s Compendium of Hebrew Grammar: Cui prodest? 

The notorious heretic of the seventeenth century excommunicated from the Amsterdam’s Sephardic community, Baruch Spinoza, is constantly receiving much attention in the academic arena because of his philosophical works and his radical views towards Jewish tradition. Yet, despite his contribution in the field of philosophy, Spinoza is also the author of a compendium of Hebrew Grammar (Compendium Grammatices Linguae Hebraeae, 1677). He took upon himself the role of writing a proper grammar of the Hebrew language, being unsympathetic to his predecessors who “wrote a grammar of the Scriptures, but none who wrote a grammar of the Hebrew language” (Compendium, ch. 7). This presentation is part of my PhD thesis, (currently in progress) that aims to offer the first translation into Romanian of the Compendium and to examine Spinoza’s thought from an integrated perspective of his philosophical and Jewish heritage.  In this paper, I provide a description of the Compendium, in an attempt to depict Spinoza more as a “grammarian” and less as a “philosopher”. I focus on Spinoza’s “revival” of Hebrew language and his desire to regard it as a living language, by looking at those fragments which focus on the use of usus linguae and analogia. I will also try to outline a possible connection between Spinoza’s theory of knowledge as presented in the Ethics and Compendium.

Massimo Gargiulo:

“Non dubito quin”, a rather frequent sentence in Spinoza’s CGLH but unusual for a grammar, a kind of writing whose purpose should be to describe impersonally the rules which govern a certain linguistic system. Instead Spinoza’s Compendium is a creative work which describes and complements at the same time Biblical Hebrew. In order to do that, moving from the general principle that every element in the Hebrew language is referable to the name, he uses analogy as a means to reconstruct unattested forms and create thus a grammar of a language, not of Scripture. In some respects this method could be compared with the rabbinical exegetical criterion of analogy, one of the middot through which rabbis try to return to the Divine word the polysemy it lost taking on human form.

Pina Totaro:

In 2013, Massimo Gargiulo and I edited the Italian translation of Spinoza’s Compendium of grammar of the Hebrew language (CGLH). This work is not very well known and has only been translated into a few different national languages. It was published in 1677 in the Posthumous Works of Spinoza. The numbering of the pages of this text starts from zero in the Posthumous Works after a sort of Index of Topics. This element means that it was decided only at the last moment to include it in the collection. We do not know the reasons for the original exclusion of the Hebrew Grammar and then for its late inclusion only in the Latin edition of Posthumous Works. It does not appear in the Dutch translation of the Nagelate Schriften.

The various commentators on this Grammar (relatively few compared to the endless bibliography on Spinoza’s other works) have devoted themselves mainly to establishing the connection of this work with the philosopher’s other writings. They have mostly considered that the Compendium of Grammar had no philosophical value. Without the pretension of having a different judgment from the one generally shared, I would like to evaluate another possible explanation about the motivations that could have induced the author to write the work.

In this Seminar I will try to compare the contents of the TTP with the CGLH. I will try to understand what was the goal that Spinoza set with the the writing of the Compendium and how this grammar of language ranks among Spinoza’s other works. I will mention some concepts expressed in the TTP that can clarify the place of the Compendium in this overall design.


1.Epistle to the reader [Admonitio ad lectorem], in Opera posthuma, 1677

The author undertook the task of writing the Compendium […] at the request of some of his friends, passionate scholars of the Holy Language, since they knew well that he had been educated in it from a very young age, and that subsequently for many years he had dealt with it with commitment, examining its characteristics in depth and becoming very knowledgeable in it.

2. Epistle to the reader [Admonitio ad lectorem], in Opera posthuma, 1677, [pp. 35-36]

Our philosopher always intended to publish a Hebrew Grammar. He wanted to demonstrate it according to the geometric method. In the Preface he would have wanted to show, first, that the pronunciation of this language had been completely lost. Secondly, he would have pointed out that the vowels were added to the Bible by the later Hebrews. That is, he wanted to emphasize that the vowels were added to the ancient names…. With regard to the Compendium, the author rightly points out that “there are many who have written the grammar of Scripture, but no one has written the grammar of the Hebrew language. You, benevolent reader, will read many things here that you will not easily find in other authors. First of all, the author invites you to reflect on the fact that “all words in the Hebrew language, have the value and properties of the noun, with the exception of interjections, conjunctions, or various particles.” The Grammarians did not realize this evidence. They therefore believed that there were many exceptions in the language. But these alleged irregularities are completely regular in linguistic use. That is, they ignored most of the notions necessary for the knowledge and use of the language. Other experts have written quite extensively but confusingly about accents. Spinoza, on the other hand, removes the superfluous notions, summarizes the important ones and shows the true use of accents. No one treated the transformations of points more rigorously and accurately than he did, and he treated with the same expertise the inflections and meanings of nouns and verbs.

3. J. Colerus – J.-M. Lucas, The lifes of Spinoza

[Spinoza] only read the Bible. He was therefore soon able to do without an interpreter. He made such appropriate reflections on the Bible that the rabbis responded to them in the manner of the ignorant. For when they have exhausted their arguments, the ignorant accuse those who press them of holding opinions that are not in accordance with religion», end quote[3]

4. TTP, chap. VII; G III, 99, 34-100; ed. Curley, II, p. 173.

And because all the writers, both of the Old Testament and the New, were Hebrews, it’s certain that the History of the Hebrew language is necessary above all others, not only for understanding the books of the Old Testament, which were written in this language, but also for understanding those of the New. For though they’ve been circulated in other languages, nevertheless they are expressed in a Hebrew manner.

Et quia omnes tam Veteris quam Novi Testamenti scriptores Hebraei fuerunt, certum est Historiam linguae Hebraicae prae omnibus necessariam esse, non tantum ad intelligentiam librorum Veteris Testamenti, qui hac lingua scripti sunt, sed etiam Novi; nam quamvis aliis linguis vulgati fuerint, hebraizant tamen.

5. TTP, chap. VI; G III, 93, 19-24; ed. Curley, II, p. 166

Finally, to understand miracles as they really happened, it is important to know the Hebrews’ expression and figures of speech. For whoever does not attend sufficiently to them will ascribe to Scripture many miracles which its writers never intended to relate, so that he will know nothing at all, not only about the things and miracles as they really happened, but also about the mind of the authors of the sacred texts.

Refert denique ad miracula, ut realiter contigerint, intelligendum Hebraeorum phrases et tropos scire; qui enim ad ipsos non satis attenderit, multa Scripturae affinget miracula, quae ejus scriptores nunquam enarrare cogitaverunt, adeoque non tantum res et miracula, prout revera contigerint, sed mentem etiam authorum sacrorum codicum plane ignorabit.

6. TTP, cap. VI; G III, 94, 14-18; ed. Curley, II, p. 167

In this way a great many things happen in the Sacred texts which were only a manner of speaking among the Jews. There is not need to recount them all separately here. But I do want to make this general point: in using these abitual expressions the Hebrews were speaking not only eloquently, but also, and mainly, in a spirit of devotion.

Et ad hunc modum perplurima in Sacris Literis occurrunt, quae tantum modi loquendi inter Judaeos fuerunt, nec opus est omnia hic singulatim recensere; sed tantum hoc in genere notari velim, Hebraeos his phrasibus non tantum consuevisse ornate, sed etiam et quidem maxime, devote loqui.

7. TTP, cap. VII; G III, 106, 16-33; ed. Curley, II, p. 180

Those who spoke and wrote Hebrew in ancient times left nothing to posterity regarding its foundations and teaching. Or at least we have absolutely nothing from them: no Dictionary, no Grammar, no Rhetoric. Moreover, the Hebrew nation has lost all its marks of distinction and honor – this is no wonder, after it has suffered so many disasters and persecutions – and has retained only some few fragments of its language and a of few books. For almost all the names of fruits, birds, fish, and many other things have perished in the injustice of the ages. Again, the meaning of many nouns and verbs which occur in the Bible is either completely unknown or is disputed. We lack, not only all these things, but also and especially, a phraseology of this language. For time, the devourer, has obliterated from the memory of men almost all the idioms and manners of speaking peculiar to the Hebrew nation. Therefore, we will not always be able, as we desire, to find out, with respect to each utterance, all the meanings it can admit according to linguistic usage. Many utterances will occur whose meaning will be very obscure, indeed, completely incomprehensible, even though they are expressed in well-known terms.

Antiqui linguae Hebraicae cultores nihil posteritati de fundamentis et doctrina hujus linguae reliquerunt; nos saltem ab iisdem nihil prorsus habemus: non ullum dictionarium, neque gramaticam, neque rhetoricam: Hebraea autem natio omnia ornamenta omneque decus perdidit (nec mirum, postquam tot clades et persecutiones passa est) nec nisi pauca quaedam fragmenta linguae et paucorum librorum retinuit; omnia enim fere nomina fructuum, avium, piscium et permulta alia temporum injuria periere. Significatio deinde multorum nominum et verborum, quae in Bibliis occurrunt, vel prorsus ignoratur vel de eadem disputatur. Cum haec omnia, tum praecipue hujus linguae phraseologiam desideramus; ejus enim phrases et modos loquendi, Hebraeae nationi peculiares, omnes fere tempus edax ex hominum memoria abolevit. Non itaque semper poterimus, ut desideramus, omnes uniuscujusque orationis sensus, quos ipsa ex linguae usu admittere potest, investigare, et multae occurrent orationes, quamvis notissimis vocibus expressae, quarum tamen sensus obscurissimus erit et plane imperceptibilis.

8. TTP, cap. VII; G III, 108, 5-11 ; ed. Curley, II, p. 181

The ancients wrote without points (i.e., without vowels and accents), as is established by many testimonies. Those who came later added these two things, as it seemed to them proper to interpret the Bible. So the accents and points which we have now are only modern interpretations, and do not deserve any more trust or authority than any other explanations authors. 

Antiqui autem sine punctis (hoc est sine vocalibus et accentibus) scripserunt (ut ex multis testimoniis constat). Posteri vero, prout iis Biblia interpretari visum est, haec duo addiderunt; quare accentus et puncta, quae jam habemus, merae hodiernorum interpretationes sunt, nec plus fidei neque authoritatis merentur quam reliquae authorum explicationes.

9. TTP, cap. VII; G III, 117, 15-22; ed. Curley, II, p. 191

For since each person has the utmost authority to interpret Scripture, the standard of interpretation must be nothing but the natural light common to all, not any supernatural light or external authority. [The standard of interpretation] must also be not so difficult that only the most acute Philosophers can apply it; it must be accommodated to the natural and common human mentality and capacity.

Nam cum maxima authoritas Scripturam interpretandi apud unumquemque sit, interpretandi ergo norma nihil debet esse praeter lumen naturale omnibus commune, non ullum supra naturam lumen, neque ulla externa authoritas; non etiam debet esse adeo difficilis, ut non nisi ab acutissimis philosophis dirigi possit, sed naturali et communi hominum ingenio et capacitati accommodata, ut nostram esse ostendimus.