Meeting 27


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DATE: Tuesday, March 2

TIME: 1:30 PM Princeton time (EST) / 8:30 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2)

PANEL: Parallel Influences: Ancient Greek Geometry in the Port-Royal Logic and Spinoza’s Ethics

SPEAKERS: Laura Kotevska (University of Sydney) and Raffi Krut-Landau (University of Pennsylvania)


In this session, we describe some of the underappreciated consequences of early moderns’ examination of ancient Greek geometry. Focusing on Arnauld and Nicole’s Logic, and Spinoza’s Ethics, we show that Euclid inspired insights beyond mathematics that encompassed reflections on reasoning well and the nature of eternity. 

Geometry and the Art of Thinking

Laura Kotevska

Dismayed by “encounter[ing] nothing but faulty minds who have practically no ability to discern the truth”, Arnauld and Nicole penned the Logique, ou l’art de penser. Their principal goal was to cultivate their readers’ good sense, mental accuracy, and capacity for self-understanding. The Elements of Euclid, I argue, played a significant role in Arnauld and Nicole’s prescriptions for thinking well. The Port-Royalists looked to the Elements as the standard of demonstrative certainty and to geometry as the science, par excellence, for accustoming the mind to sound demonstrations and arriving at the truth. A discussion of what this meant for the seventeenth-century reader of the Logique concludes the talk.

Hidden Figures: Spinoza on Geometrical Construction and Potentiality

Raphael Krut-Landau

Spinoza famously believes that everything that can exist, must. Nevertheless, he sneaks into his metaphysics certain things that could exist, but don’t. Or so I will argue. I make my case by discussing two unnoticed sources of Spinoza’s metaphysics. The first is Aristotle’s theory of geometrical construction, the influence of which shows in Ethics 2p8s. The second is Proclus’s commentary on the first book of Euclid’s Elements, the influence of which can be seen in 5p31s, where Spinoza says he will fictionally describe the eternal mind “as if it were now beginning to be.”

Meeting 26

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DATE: Tuesday, February 23

TIME: 1 PM Princeton time (EST) / 8 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2)

PANEL: Panpsychism in the Renaissance

SPEAKERS: Paul Richard Blum (Loyola University Maryland), Elisabeth Blum (Palacký University Olomouc), Tomáš Nejeschleba (Palacký University Olomouc), Martin Žemla (Charles University, Prague)


  1. A lecture (20-30 minutes) by Paul Richard Blum on the metaphor of God in Giordano Bruno.
    Hans Blumenberg stated that philosophical theology cannot avoid what he called absolute metaphors because, by definition, it cannot reach the ultimate referent the unspeakable God. Metaphor is all there is. Therefore, images are concepts of reason, and ideas, substances, attributes, etc. are to be seen as images and, consequently, they share the properties of imagination such as relationality. Seeing God in images and metaphors, therefore, is not inappropriate but, rather, the divine way of knowing. This has consequences for the structure of the world: for Bruno, cognition is idealized causation to the extent that the cognitive principles are also the powers of reality. This amounts to panpsychism. Panpsychism is more than some sort of animation in the world; it is the intelligence of creation. This intelligence – in the active and passive meaning – is what makes the world real and the condition for the understandability of the world and the divine. Therefore, panpsychism and pantheism are two aspects of the same philosophy, in which ‘god’ is a metaphor for the recognizability of the world, and things are metaphors for the presence of God.
  2. Comments and contributions to the discussion by
    • Martin Žemla on Paracelsus: The “light of nature” and the “signaturae rerum” are concepts that imply all things to be endowed with an animating principle.
    • Elisabeth Blum on Tommaso Campanella: Panpsychism relates to magic, theism, pantheism or panentheism, and the Christian notion of a trinitarian God.
    • Tomáš Nejeschleba on Jan Amos Comenius: Comenius borrowed the term “panspychia” from Francesco Patrizi; panpsychism was the philosophical background of his pedagogy.

Meeting 25

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DATE: Tuesday, February 16

TIME: 1 PM Princeton time (EST) / 8 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2)

PANEL: Exclusion and Inclusion in the History of Philosophy

SPEAKERS: Karen Detlefsen (University of Pennsylvania), Daria Drozdova (HSE University, Moscow), Chike Jeffers (Dalhousie University)

CHAIR: Lisa Shapiro (Simon Fraser University)


Early Modern canon in Russian/Soviet textbooks on history of philosophy

Daria Drozdova, HSE University, Moscow

In the talk I’m going to address the question of the relationship between the historical narratives and canons in history of philosophy. I will examine approaches to teaching the history of early modern philosophy in Russian and Soviet universities in the 19th and 20th centuries, using several textbooks and lecture courses as examples. In the 19th century, the teaching of the history of Early Modern philosophy in Russia was deeply influenced by the German-speaking tradition. At the same time there were numerous approaches to how the history of philosophy and its internal logic should be interpreted. After 1917, a single dogmatic tradition of interpreting and teaching Western philosophy in a Marxist vein gradually crystallized in the Soviet Union. The resulting modification of the understanding of philosophy and its history had hardly affected the list of those who were considered to be the greatest minds of the Early Modern philosophy (Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume), although it has changed their evaluation according to their contribution to the development of dialectical materialism. More significant changes can be found in the interpretation of prior or subsequent philosophy. Taking Nicholas of Cusa, Giordano Bruno as examples, I will examine how changes in the dominant narrative alter their significance in the scholar representation.

Cugoano and Early Modern Philosophy

Chike Jeffers, Dalhousie University

This paper will explore the question of how to situate Africana figures in the story of early modern philosophy by focusing on the example of Quobna Ottobah Cugoano. I will discuss the usefulness of comparing Cugoano with other early modern thinkers like John Locke and Jonathan Edwards. I will also discuss how Cugoano situates his work within a nascent tradition of black writing in English that is equally relevant to understanding his philosophical contribution.

Method, Genre and the Scope of Philosophy in Early Modern European Women Philosophers 

Karen Detlefsen, University of Pennsylvania 

Philosophy today recognizes specific genres and methods as distinctively philosophical. These are relatively recent constructions. Philosophy, as practiced in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe did not always conform to these contemporary disciplinary norms. By reading these norms—for example, those that characterize analytic philosophy—back onto the philosophical past, the fullness of that past is occluded. Anchoring our understanding of philosophy in the early modern period not in genres (e.g. treatises) or in methods (e.g. rational argumentation toward a conclusion), but rather in content (i.e. questions or concerns that are distinctively philosophical), allows us to better recover the philosophical contributions of erstwhile neglected figures. Further, understanding an author’s audience and purposes can help inform why the author might have used the genres and methods that she used in order to produce her philosophy. 

In this paper, I examine a few especially telling examples of the variety of ways in which women in early modern Europe produced their philosophy. In the process, I argue that philosophical writing in this period appears in a wide range of genres, utilizing a wide range of methods, and that a full history of our discipline must acknowledge these contributions to the history of our discipline. 

Meeting 24

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DATE: Tuesday, February 9

TIME: 1 PM Princeton time (EST) / 8 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2)

PANEL : Leibniz on Corporeal Substance and Organism: Between A Priori Reasoning and Empirical Evidence

SPEAKERS: Alessandro Becchi (Independent scholar, Florence), Osvaldo Ottaviani (University of Milan)

Recommended reading: Leibniz’s letter to Rudolf Christian Wagner (translation available here).


A metaphysician looking downwards. Some remarks on Leibniz and microscopy

Alessandro Becchi (Independent scholar, Florence)

In my presentation I will focus on the steady interest, shown by Leibniz since his youth, for the microscope: an observational instrument that in the second half of the seventeenth century triggered a second revolution in scientific and philosophical thought, after the great revolution operated by the telescope. This second revolution, which revealed the “infinitely small” to the eyes of the natural philosophers, marked the origin of entirely new sciences. Leibniz was fully aware of the immense cognitive and technical perspectives opened by the new observational tool, perspectives that – in his opinion – far exceeded those of astronomical observatories. I will try to show how this predilection for the microscope has its roots in Leibniz’s very mindset. His interest in microscopy was accompanied by the direct acquaintance with some great microscopists of the time and their pioneering works: Robert Hooke, Jan Swammerdam, Marcello Malpighi, Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek. From each one of them Leibniz derived fundamental information about the “microcosm” of nature – information which he readily used as empirical support of some central metaphysical tenets of his mature system: the idea that the ultimate atoms of reality have biological features, the fundamental continuity of nature at all its levels, the doctrine of the preexistence of living beings, the infinite complexity of those “divine machines” represented by plants and animals. On this last point Leibniz makes a strong criticism of the Cartesian conception of living beings (conceived on the model of human artifacts), reformulating in an original way the classical problem of the relationship between art and nature. In continuity with the Aristotelian tradition (even if through a different kind of argument than Aristotle), Leibniz maintains that the difference between human artifacts and natural organisms is a difference of gender, not only one of degree. I believe that all these topics can help us to put into a sharper focus important aspects of the relationship between the history of philosophy and the history of science in the early modern age, and to better grasp the complexity of some historiographical and epistemological categories, such as that of “rationalism”.

Leibniz’s late metaphysics and ontology of life.
Unpublished materials from the correspondence with R. C. Wagner

Osvaldo Ottaviani

In my talk, I would like to discuss Leibniz’s late philosophy, especially his theory of substance and his ontology of living beings, focusing on unpublished materials related to the correspondence with Rudolf Christian Wagner. Leibniz’s correspondence with Wagner has been usually regarded as involving only technical issues, as the construction of Leibniz’s calculating machine; the only philosophically remarkable exception being represented by Leibniz’s well-known letter to Wagner of June 4, 1710. In the current process of publishing the Leibniz-Wagner correspondence in series III of the Akademie Ausgabe, however, other two letters (written between 1704 and 1705) have been edited, where Leibniz discusses philosophical topics, like his theory of the preformation of the animals, and the universal connection of all things. Furthermore, I discovered the original draft of Leibniz’s letter to Wagner of June 1710, which also contains a remarkable series of definitions of the philosophical notions discussed in the letter (simple and composite substances, life, entelechy, primary matter, etc.). A particularly interesting feature of this text is a quite original distinction between three elements, substantians, substantia, and substantiatum. This threefold partition is connected to Leibniz’s distinction between simple substances (monads) and composite substance, which, in his later texts, is often rephrased in terms of a distinction between the substance and the substantiatum (i.e. what is composed of simple substances).

First of all, I would like to show how these materials from the Leibniz-Wagner correspondence allow us to connect Leibniz’s ontological reflections, expressed in a long series of drafts containing definitions of philosophical notions (most of which still unpublished) with his late texts concerning the distinction between primary and secondary matter, as well as with his account of living beings and universal animation. Second, I will focus on the original draft of the letter to Wagner, taking into account his account of substantiata as a sort of leading thread of Leibniz’s philosophical reflections in his late years, where his theory of substance is deeply intertwined with his account of life and organic nature.

Meeting 23

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DATE: Tuesday, February 2

TIME: 1 PM Princeton time (EST) / 8 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2)

PANEL : Studies in the History of the History of Philosophy. A discussion on occasion of the BJHP special issue Historiographies of Philosophy 1800-1950 (vol. 28:3, 2020).

SPEAKERS: Delphine Antoine-Mahut (IHRIM, ENS de Lyon), Leo Catana (Copenhagen), Mogens Lærke (CNRS, Maison Française d’Oxford)

Participants would benefit from reading the introduction to the special issue, available in open access here:


Brief Introduction by Mogens Lærke 

1. Why do We Need a Translation of Brucker’s Historia critica philosophiae (1742-44)? Presentation of a Book Project. 

Leo Catana (University of Copenhagen)  

The German historian and minister Johann Jacob Brucker (1696–1770) is widely recognized as the father of modern historiography of philosophy. In 1742–1744, he published his Historia critica philosophiae in Leipzig. The second edition was published (again in Leipzig) in 1766– 1767. The Historia was the most comprehensive history of philosophy produced in the eighteenth century, influencing general histories of philosophy and many encyclopaedias (including those by Zedler and Diderot) over the following two hundred years. Brucker’s methodology, his criterion for the admittance of philosophers into the canon, and his characterization of individual thinkers and periods were, and remain, deeply influential, whether directly or indirectly. One of the reasons behind his influence is that his work is inaccessible to most modern readers, partly because it is composed in Latin, partly because the conversations into which he intervened are now unfamiliar; the result being that several of its historiographical positions are taken at face value and not seen as outcomes of contingent and often normative interventions. I argue that we need a modern translation of at least part of the work, which can help the modern reader to disclose the context and nature of his historiographical prepositions. 

2. Some remarks on a philosophical history of the history of philosophy: Martial Gueroult’s Dianoématique (1979-1988) 

Mogens Lærke (CNRS, Maison Française d’Oxford)  

Martial Gueroult is towering figure in of 20th Century French Historiography, in the English-speaking world perhaps best known for his monumental reconstructions of the systems of Descartes Spinoza, and Malebranche. His last major published work, however, was an account of the philosophy and history of the history of philosophy, the so-called Dianoématique, a history of the history of philosophy as a discipline in four volumes that he first drafted in the 1930s, but continued to work on for more than four decades. It was published posthumously in 1979–88 in an edition established by his most dedicated student, Ginette Dreyfus, and completed by Jules Vuillemin. Here, I will briefly discuss this understudied work and the philosophical project underlying it. 

3. Why do we need a concept of historiographical figures to do history of philosophy? 

Delphine Antoine-Mahut, ENS Lyon (IHRIM, UMR 5317 ; LabEx COMOD) 

Historians of philosophy often identify “fidelity” as a sine qua non condition for access to the “truth” of a text, understood here in the sense of what the author of that text really said, or even intended to say. This “disinterested” practice, considering in this sense the Classics as “unimportant,” would underpin its scientificity, and therefore also the shareable nature of its results. Can we challenge this conception without considering the philosophies of the past as a storehouse from which we can pick and choose the theoretical material we need to make something completely different? And what can we gain by doing so? Theorizing the concept of the philosophical figure is a possible answer to these questions. After recalling the method and the main results of my article « Philosophizing with a historiographical figure. Descartes in Degérando’s Comparative History (1804 and 1847) » (British Journal for the History of Philosophy Vol. 28, 2020, Issue 3, 533-552), I will thus open the discussion on the relevance of such a concept and on how texts from the past can be read and taught and what philosophical purpose they can possibly “serve.” 

Meeting 22

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DATE: Tuesday, December 8

TIME: 1 PM Princeton time (EST) / 8 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2)

PANEL : On Friendship with God: Seneca and Shaftesbury

SPEAKERS: Ryan Darr (Princeton University), Dana Jalobeanu (University of Bucharest)


Friendship with God in Shaftesbury’s The Moralists

Ryan Darr (Princeton University)

In his philosophical dialogue, The Moralists, Shaftesbury addresses two interrelated themes: the good of human beings and the problem of evil. The former is the topic of the primary dialogue, while the latter is the concern of the one to whom the dialogue is being recounted. Both are answered through Shaftesbury’s notion of friendship with God, the “Genius” who governs the cosmos. Friendship with God is the human good, and through friendship with God we recognize that there is no real ill in the world. In this paper, I reconstruct Shaftesbury’s notion of friendship with God and then argue that there is tension between the account of the human good and the resolution of the problem of evil.

Friendship with God in Seneca`s Epistles: philosophical reflections and literary devices

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

Friendship is one of the main themes in Seneca’s Letters to Lucilius. Some may say, perhaps, that it is the main theme. And yet, to date, scholars failed to agree on many of its details. Debates range over the question whether Seneca’s conception of friendship is Stoic, influenced by the Epicureans or by Plato’s early dialogues; or, whether it was constructed in opposition with Cicero’s conception of friendship. Other questions regard the nature and functions of friendship: is it a relationship among the sages, or maybe the right kind of relationship between the wise and God? Is friendship a form of the exercise of virtue? Or a pedagogic tool for the proficiens? To date, scholars even fail to agree over the question which particular letters from the collection are letters on friendship.

            In this talk, I suggest that a possible reason for such a diversity of interpretations lies in the fact that the theme of friendship is central to the very particular interplay between philosophy and literature which represents the main characteristic of the Letters. Seneca does not subject the notion of friendship to philosophical reflection only; he employs vivid examples and creates powerful characters; a whole cast friends live in the pages of his Letters. As some scholars have already emphasized, this literary approach often led Seneca in unexpected directions and resulted in surprising philosophical innovations. My claim is that his theory of friendship is one of them.

            My investigation focuses on a particular form of imaginative exercise proposed by Seneca in the Letters; the requirement to “make friends.” This is described as an act of craftmanship (Seneca uses a plethora of metaphors for it, such as sculpting, painting, gardening) which follows our natural instinct but which can have different degrees of sophistication and self-reflection according to where we are on Seneca’s scale of proficiency. The sage is making friends as Phidias is making statues, using all the “human stuff” available to him; and, in this, he imitates God, the craftsman of the universe. The philosopher aims to do the same, but his craftmanship differs in substantial ways from that of the wise. His creation is of a second order. He cannot shape friends in his own image (since he is not always living only according to the dictates of reason). He cannot make friends in the image of the sage, since he only has dim reflections of that. In a way, the philosopher – proficiens does not even know what is his own image, since he has, at best, a limited knowledge of his own self. If the model of making friends is vertical and top-down for the sage, for the proficiens making friends involve a complex loop of action and passion, creation and reflection, appropriation (of the other) and self-discovery. In this process we first become acquainted, then gradually reveal, fix, and eventually take possession of what is called the god within us, i.e., the highest “part” of the mind (animus rectus, bonus, magnus). As I will show in my talk, the Letters read like a depiction of this gradual uncovering and fixing of the god within; a masterful depiction of an intricate maze of literary devices and philosophical reflections, imaginative and cognitive exercises reminiscent of a good (Senecan) play.

Meeting 21

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DATE: Tuesday, December 1

TIME: 1 PM Princeton time (EST) / 8 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2)

PANEL : Experiments of Light

SPEAKERS: Alexandru Liciu (University of Bucharest), Doina-Cristina Rusu (University of Groningen), Hanna Szabelska (Jagiellonian University)


Robert Hooke’s ways of Discovery. A Baconian legacy

Alexandru Liciu (University of Bucharest)

Robert Hooke intended to raise a natural-philosophical superstructure on natural histories. His Present State of Natural Philosophy deals largely with the sort of philosophical history that would be needed for such a project. Giving several examples of provisional natural histories, Hooke starts with the claim that, at first, these do not need to be especially lucifereous (Hooke, Present State…, 21), a term that refers to Francis Bacon’s experiments oriented rather towards the formulation of axioms than to practical results (cf. for instance OFB XI 113). However, Hooke’s story changes as the natural histories become more and more complex, ending up with thirty-six instances of lucifereous  material, i.e. the “ways of Discovery”. In this presentation, I claim that Hooke’s “ways of Discovery” are drawn on Bacon’s prerogative instances. For example, Bacon’s “Monadic” and “Frontier Instance” become Hooke’s “Transitions of Nature” (experiments that deal with the “true specific” of a species). I will discuss a series of such examples. I conclude by showing that, just like Bacon’s project, Hooke’s demarche is essentially unfinished (or even unfinishable): Hooke emphasized that up to this point he spoke as a historian and not as a philosopher. The “ways of Discovery”, no matter how lucifereous, reveal causes which are not extremely different from their effects. The discovery of the innermost laws of nature is a job for the philosopher, and to this job Hooke intended to return in his second part of his Philosophical Algebra, which he never perfected.

Subtlety and Experiments of Light

Doina-Cristina Rusu (University of Groningen)

In the second book of his Novum organum (1620), Francis Bacon mentions a particular group of instances, the ‘Summoning Instances’ (also called Evoking Instances; Instantias Citantes, Instantias Evocantes in Latin) which reduce non-sensible to sensible. Two kinds of such instances are emphasised by Bacon – those in which the object is incapable of making an impression upon the senses, and those in which the size of the object will not let the impression be carried to the sense. Any investigation into air, spirits, and suchlike entities qualifies as a summoning instance because these things are fine and subtle, so that they cannot be seen or felt. In this paper, I will focus on Bacon’s methodology of reducing the subtle activity of pneumatic matter to its visible effects.

Jean-Baptiste Du Hamel on Induction

Hanna Szabelska (Jagiellonian University)

One of somewhat neglected figures that deserve close reading is Jean-Baptiste Du Hamel (1624–1706), theologian and natural philosopher, the first secretary of the Academie Royale des Sciences. As Peter Anstey and Dmitri Levitin point out, a detailed study of du Hamel is still a desideratum (cf. G. Piaia, “The histories of philosophy in France in the age of Descartes”, in Models of the History of Philosophy, vol. 2 [2011], p. 21-29; D. Levitin, “Early Modern Experimental Philosophy: A Non-Anglocentric Overview,” in Experiment, Speculation and Religion in Early Modern Philosophy, p. 272.). Particularly interesting is du Hamel’s theory of induction as arising from his criticism of Descartes’s concept of the laws of nature.

In his 1672 treatise De mente humana, du Hamel defines induction as part of logica experimentalis. He considers experimental knowledge about human cognition as underdeveloped in comparison with other branches of experimental philosophy, e.g. concerning plants, animals, etc, and intends to fill this gap. One of his focuses is the concept of analysis, discussed in connection with Descartes’s laws of nature. Du Hamel questions Descartes’s claim that they can be derived from God’s immutability and postulates the enhancement of analysis by induction: “Quae [analysis] cum in Mathematicis sit fructuosissima, ad Physicam etiam transferri utiliter potest, dummodo inductione ipsa roboretur.” In Chapter VII about induction in general, du Hamel appeals to the famous Baconian distinction between experimenta lucida and fructifera. Unlike Robert Boyle, who flattens out the difference between the two (“there are few frućtiferous experiments, which may not readily become luciferous to the attentive conſiderer of them.”), du Hamel deepens it by nuancing the types of experiments (e.g. phenomena exposed to the eyes should be preferred to unusual and rare ones): ” But the biggest difference between a philosopher and a mechanical artificer is that while the former searches most of all for the light of truth, the latter – for the practical application of [his] work. Naturally, he conducts experiments for no other reason than that they serve a specific work. But a philosopher does not usually conduct profitable experiments but lucid experiments that are less deceptive and especially contribute to inventing the causes of things. As soon as causes are discovered, new arts and, above all, many benefits are derived from them.” Strikingly similar wording is to be found in du Hamel’s Regiae scientiarum Academiae historia ([Parisiis, 1701], p. 12) with the difference that it is not a philosopher, but the Academy that conducts lucid experiments. This slightly undermines Levitin’s point that “that Gassendi’s anti-Aristotelian experimentalist discourse and practice probably inspired them [early academicians] more than Bacon’s.” The aim of this proposal is to discuss du Hamel’s concept of induction (English translation of Chapter VII: u5-E4C-6Xhcq7Ql0/edit# ) and to analyse the role played by baconianism in the French Academy on his account.

Meeting 20

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DATE: Tuesday, November 24

TIME: 1 PM Princeton time (EST) / 8 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2)

PANEL : The Philosophy of Anne Conway

SPEAKERS: Jonathan Head (Keele University), Jasper Reid (King’s College London) & Natalia Strok (University of Buenos Aires – CONICET)


Jonathan Head:

Much of the recent scholarship on the philosophy of Anne Conway has focused on the nature of her metaphysical monism. In this talk, after clarifying the terms of the debate, I am going to argue for a ‘type monist’ interpretation, according to which Conway postulates an infinite number of created substances. In addition to offering arguments in favour of my interpretation, I will also critique competing ‘existence monist’ and other middle-ground interpretations that have been offered in the literature.

Jasper Reid:

In my talk, I intend to discuss Conway in relation to the Lurianic kabbalah. I shall begin by examining the extent of Conway’s acquaintance with kabbalistic literature: which texts did she probably did know, and which would have been unavailable to her? I shall then consider the use she made of certain kabbalistic concepts, but also warn against the danger of seeing more kabbalah in her work than is really there.

Natalia Strok:

In this talk I would like to explore the concept of natural justice that Conway addresses in her Principia Philosophiae. I want to show that, although everything is reunited in one essence in the third kind of substance in her metaphysics, there is a distinction between nature, in general, and human nature, in particular. She presents a hierarchy of beings that has human nature as the principal one, and a framework of transmutations, that tends toward good, in spite of the possibility of going toward bad. I will pay attention to the mechanism of transmutations that Conway presents and the punishments to the sinful nature, as divine justice. 

Meeting 19

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DATE: Tuesday, November 17

TIME: 1 PM Princeton time (EST) / 8 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2)

PANEL : Anatomy, Physiology, and Pharmacy: From Early Modern Philosophy to Science

SPEAKERS: Filip A. A. Buyse (Centre for the Study of Medicine and the Body in the Renaissance (CSMBR), Pisa) & Benjamin Goldberg (University of South Florida)


Spinoza and Johannes Müller: How the Dutch Philosopher Inspired the German Father of Contemporary Physiology

Filip A. A. Buyse (Centre for the Study of Medicine and the Body in the Renaissance (CSMBR), Pisa)

Spinoza was right. In the end it is all biology. (Stuart Hampshire, 2005) 

It is hard to believe that, in recent publications, nobody has systematically examined why “the father of contemporary physiology” quotes so explicitly from Spinoza’s work, and refers to it at different stages of his impressive career. This is even doubly remarkable, given the fact that during the last decades there has been so much interest in Spinoza’s philosophy among contemporary biologists, Antonio Damasio[1], Henri Atlan[2] and Jean Pierre Changeux[3] included, who argue convincingly that the Dutch philosopher (1632-1677) anticipated modern biological thinking. Likewise, it is amazing that Spinoza’s name is completely absent in several important biographies of Johannes Peter Müller[4] (1801-1858).

This paper aims at filling in this striking gap by investigating the relation between Spinoza’s sensory philosophy and Johannes Peter Müller’s sensory physiology. After having resolved some misunderstandings concerning Johann Müller’s name, it examines, in the second section, when and where precisely J.P. Müller mentions Spinoza (1632-1677) in his works. In a third section, it tries to find out why Müller applies the ideas of the Dutch philosopher rather than those of other influential early modern philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, Hume, or Hobbes. This part explores several elements of Spinoza’s philosophy and claims that especially his innovative ideas on memory and his views on the affections of the body (E2p16) played an important role. Contrary to Piccolino & Drake[5] (2013), this paper claims that in his revolutionary theory of sensations, Müller was directly influenced by Spinoza rather than indirectly from Galileo, whose ideas were transmitted via Kant and Locke.  However, this paper argues that also elements from Spinoza’s ontology were playing an important role even though the 19th-century physiologist only seems to quote from his epistemology and his theory of emotions, being afraid to be accused of Spinozism.

Müller’s main work Handbuch der Physiologie des Menschen[6] (1837 & 1840) was in 1845 translated into French,[7] and between 1838 and 1842 into English,[8]  so that his ideas spread rapidly in Western Europe. Consequently, this paper will help not only to clarify the relation between the influential Copley-medal winner and Spinoza, but also that between Müller and the myriad physiologists who were subsequently inspired by his work, Jacob Henle (1809-1885), Hermann Helmholtz (1821-1894), Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902), Theodor Schwann (1810-1882), Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), Emil du Bois-Reymond (1818-1896) and Ernst Wilhelm Ritter von Brücke (1819-1892), and their students such as Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), included.  

[1] Damasio, A.R., Looking for Spinoza. Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain. London, William Heinemann, 2003.

[2] Cf. Atlan H., Cours de philosophie biologique et cognitiviste – Spinoza et la biologie actuelle. Paris: Odile Jacob, 2018.

[3] Cf. J.P. Changeux and P. Ricoeur, What makes us think? Princeton/Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2000.

[4] See for instance:  the introduction of Nicholas J. Wade in the first volume of his edition of Müller’s Elements of Physiology and Laura Otis’s biography of J. P. Müller. ‘Spinoza’ was never mentioned neither in Laura Otis’s recent publication entitled “Müller’s Lab” (2007).

[5] Galileo’s sensory philosophy. In: Marco Piccolino and Nicholas J. Wade, Galileo’s Visions, Oxford: OUP, 2013,164-186.

[6] Müller, Johannes. Handbuch der Physiologie des Menschen für Vorlesungen. Erster

Band (1837) &  Zweiter Band (1840). Coblenz: Verlag von J. Hölscher.

[7] Müller, J.P., Manuel de Physiologie. Paris : J.-B. Baillière, 1845.

[8] Müller, J.P., Elements of physiology. 1838-1842. Publisher London Taylor & Walton. For a modern edition, see: Müller, Johannes. Müller’s Elements of Physiology (Edited by N. Wade). 4 vol. Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2003.


Dr. Filip Buyse received his MSc in Biochemistry and MA in Philosophy from the University of Louvain before completing an interuniversity DEA in the Philosophy of science at the ULB, the UCL and the ULg. In 2014, he received his PhD in Philosophy cum laude from the Université Paris 1 Panthéon – Sorbonne. His PhD project was on the conception of the body in Spinoza and Galileo. His interests include early modern philosophy, early modern science, the mind/body-problem, epistemology and ontology. Dr. Filip Buyse has given many lectures in several countries, organized some international conferences and published several articles, mainly on the philosophy of 17th century thinkers such as Spinoza, Descartes, Hobbes and Boyle. Furthermore, he edited a special issue of the Intellectual History Review on Galileo and Spinoza and was the invited editor of two special volumes of the Society and Politics: one on Letters by Early modern Philosophers and one on The Pendulum Clock in 17th Century Philosophy. Last year, he has been awarded fellowships at the HAPP Center in Oxford, the Vossius Center in Amsterdam and the Descartes Center in Utrecht. Currently, he is working on a project examining a manuscript by A.C. Crombie and A. Carugo that he has discovered in Trinity Archive in Oxford.  

Notions of Experience in Early Modern Anatomy and Pharmacy

Benjamin Goldberg (University of South Florida)

In this presentation, I will discuss two conceptions of the idea of ‘experience’ that are present in early modern medicine. The first finds its origins in Renaissance Humanism, in particular, in the tradition of ’autopsia’ (seeing for oneself) that became so important in learned discussions of anatomy, particularly among the anatomists of Padua. This tradition emphasizes the way that expertise arises from constant observation and manipulation of human and animal bodies, as well as broad, comparative experience amongst different kinds of animals (anatomical historia, as argued by Gianna Pomata). This expertise forms the foundation of anatomical judgment, and thus the basis of any attempts at explanation of the functionality of anatomy so described. I will focus here on the work of William Harvey, who demonstrates that one might make revolutionary discoveries while still wedded to a basically classical, Aristotelian picture of scientific method. 

The second conception of experience I will discuss is found in the world of pharmacy, in particular, the realm of medical trials. Here I will discuss various schemes for testing the efficacy of medicines, which I argue, following Evan Ragland and pace Peter Dear, are distinct from the idea of trials found in the mathematical sciences a la Galileo. Instead, these trials, found especially among householders manufacturing their own medicines, are based on what has been variously called the ‘artisanal epistemology’ or ‘maker’s knowledge’ tradition, as has been argued by Wendy Wall, Elizabeth Spiller, William Eamon, Lynette Hunter, Ann Stobart, and Elaine Leong among others. This tradition emphasizes the importance of personal observation and experience of a medicine’s effects. Here I will focus on a number of early modern recipe collections, in both print and in manuscript, including the understudied manuscript collection of William and Margaret Cavendish.

While these traditions have different etiologies, there are a number of points of commonality. For instance, both emphasize the importance of personal, first-hand experience, as well as the importance manipulation—changing, on the one hand, the ingredients in a medicine, and, on the other, cutting and ligating a vivisected animal. Another point of commonality lays in their emphasis on repeated experiencing as the basis of expert judgment. There are also important distinctions—the learned, anatomical tradition understands itself in terms of a long tradition going back to Galen and Aristotle, and is an elite practice of individual investigators aiming at knowledge of causes. The pharmaceutical tradition, meanwhile, is an outgrowth of medieval books of secrets, and is distinguished from the anatomical tradition both by its emphasis on common, household experience, as well as its fundamentally communal nature, involving not just elite practitioners, but housewives, milk aides, animal handlers, and other assorted characters, working together as a household unit to produce practical knowledge.

I will end with some questions about how to integrate these ideas into our overall histories of philosophy and science.

Works that will be discussed:

• William Harvey: Prelectiones anatomie universalis (Manuscript), De motu cordis, De generatione animalium

• Elizabeth Talbot Grey, A Choice Manual of Rare and Select Secrets 

• Queen Henrietta Maria, The Queen’s Closet Opened 

• Alethea Talbot Howard, Natura Exenterata 

• William and Margert Cavendish, A Booke, wherein is Contained Rare Minerall Receipts Collected at Paris from those who hath had great      Experience of them  (Manuscript)

• Margaret Cavendish, Observations upon Experimental Philosophy


Dr Benjamin Goldberg is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Humanities and Cultural Studies at the University of South Florida. His work focuses on the intersection of medicine and philosophy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, having published numerous articles on figures such as William Harvey and Margaret Cavendish. In collaboration with Dr Justin Begley, Dr Goldberg is currently finishing a transcription and commentary on the medical recipe collection of Margaret and William Cavendish for Palgrave MacMillan

Meeting 18

If you’ve never attended in the fall, email us at for the new Zoom link

DATE: Tuesday, November 10

TIME: 1 PM Princeton time (EST) / 8 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2)

PANEL : David Hume: Miracles and Logic

SPEAKERS: Graham Clay (University of Notre Dame) & Michael Jacovides (Purdue University)


Hume Should Deny the Law of Excluded Middle

Graham Clay (University of Notre Dame)

Hume’s principles require that he deny the Law of Excluded Middle (LEM). Although Hume never states or refers to the LEM explicitly, its negation is entailed by what he does state. I discuss these principles–which include Hume’s Separability Principle and Conceivability Principle–as well as ways in which they might ought to be modified to deal with objections. I conclude by reflecting on one context where Hume appears to implicitly rely on the LEM and thereby contradict himself. In contexts like this one, Hume should alter his argumentation rather than abandon the core tenets that lead him to the negation of the LEM.

The Anti-Catholic Background to Hume’s Essay on Miracles

Michael Jacovides (Purdue University)

Placing Hume’s essay on miracles in its religious and historical context clarifies the force of his arguments. Three years before its publication, Edinburgh is occupied by an insurrectionary Catholic army. Hume’s British readers contemplated Catholicism with fear and contempt. We should understand two of the arguments in Part 2 of Hume’s essay on miracles as reductios ad Catholicism: if you believe in the miracles in the Bible, then you ought to believe in Catholic miracles as well. Understanding this intention dissolves the tension between Hume’s assertion that there’s never been a miracle that’s been witnessed by men of learning, good sense, and reputation, and his glowing description of the witnesses to Jansenist miracles a few paragraphs later. He knows his readers won’t believe in a Catholic miracle no matter what, so praising the witnesses of those miracles to the skies raises the bar on the quality of testimony required for the religious miracles they do believe in. Hume’s concrete intentions also illuminate the Contrary Religions Argument. When that argument is abstracted away from its particular context, it loses plausibility. When we understand that the main contrary religion Hume has in mind is Catholicism, we can see how the argument could persuade its readers.