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.

Meeting 62

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

DATE: Tuesday, May 10

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

PANEL: On Trading Zones between Scholars and Craftsmen: Artisanal Practices and Mathematics in the Early Modern Period

SPEAKERS: Angela Axworthy (Gerda Henkel Stiftung & MPIWG), Michael Friedman (Tel Aviv University), Thomas Morel (Bergische Universität Wuppertal)


The thesis of the seventeenth-century mathematization of nature was – and in certain aspects, still is – one of most influential of the twentieth-century historiography. But as Sophie Roux (2010) argued, one sees in the seventeenth century not only very little agreement that this mathematization was a unified or a unifying project, but also the appearance of a plurality of types of mathematizations. This diversity is perceived most clearly when one examines encounters (actual or hypothetical) between practical geometers, specialized groups of practitioners and artisans (miners, weavers, glass makers, etc.) on the one side, scholars, humanists and mathematicians on the other.

The overarching theme of the three talks is the characterization of these real or imagined encounters between artisanal-material knowledge and expertise and mathematical knowledge, theoretical and practical. More explicitly, which kind of rationality emerged due to these exchanges? Our aim is to examine how in early modern Europe the relations between artisanal-material practices and mathematics may be understood and to offer new directions of research for the study of these relations.

In recent years, a dense scholarship on craftsmen and artisanal practices – including but not restricted to the “material turn” – has underlined that the knowledge involved in these milieux was not easily mathematizable. Pamela Long has adapted Peter Galison’s concept of “trading zones” to approach the exchanges of knowledge and know-how in the early modern period, while Lesley Cormack has led an effort to revisit Edgard Zilsel’s thesis on the decisive role of superior craftsmen in the development of modern sciences. More specifically, Matteo Valleriani has presented mathematization as the “continuous re-organization of knowledge systems”, while Dana Jalobeanu and Grigore Vida have described processes of “colonization” of natural philosophy by mathematicians.

In this rich and developing historiographical field, the interactions between mathematicians and practitioners nevertheless raise several specific questions. How frequent and meaningful were the actual encounters between craftsmen and mathematicians? Was there an actual intellectual influence between the two groups even if those encounters were imaginary? How did the recently developed machines and techniques lead to new discoveries in mathematics? Conversely, how did the new developments in mathematics during the seventeenth century influence the way artisanal practices were considered by scholars, on the one hand, and by practitioners, on the other hand? Was a mathematization or mechanization of artisanal practices aimed to bestow a character of “mathematicity” to these practices? Were the values of proof and rigour of scholarly reasoning applied to artisanal procedures and methods so as to guarantee accuracy? And, if so, to which extent was this endeavour successful? It would anyhow be fruitful to study how mathematical definitions and principles, which were still fluid at the time, were influenced by the ubiquitous activities of accounting, measuring, or even teaching practical and applied mathematics. In relation to this, it is also important to investigate the way these encounters between artisanal practice and mathematical scholarship impacted the content, methods, status and representation of mathematical knowledge, practical and theoretical. How did such exchanges, for instance, influence the interpretation and explanation of Euclidean geometrical and arithmetical propositions in the numerous commentaries on Euclid’s Elements written and published in various languages in early modern Europe?


Practical approaches to Euclidean geometry in the 16th century

Angela Axworthy

The Elements of Euclid (3rd century BC) was regarded since late Antiquity as a reference work for the most fundamental aspects of geometry and had become by the 17th century a true best-seller. In the 16th century, the multitude of published editions, translations and commentaries of the Elements was however rivalled by the growing number of printed treatises of practical geometry, which was crucial to the development of elementary geometry beyond the Euclidean framework. While Euclid’s Elements represented a model of abstraction, rigor and necessity for any scientific endeavour, clearly separated numbers and magnitudes and left aside any mention of instrumental procedures or concrete applications of geometry, practical geometry defended an approach to geometrical concepts that is hands-on, utility-oriented, based on empirical apprehension rather than on abstract concepts and logical deductions, and which furthermore promoted innovativeness and allowed for a concrete as well as for a numerical consideration of magnitudes. Practical geometry treatises also taught a number of applications of geometry proper to utilitarian domains such as surveying, instrument-making, map-making, architecture, engineering, navigation or commercial arithmetic. Some of these treatises also offered a practical treatment of certain Euclidean principles and propositions, which incited in turn commentators of Euclid to adopt a more practical approach to the Elements, e.g. by teaching the instrumental procedures involved in the construction of figures or by referring to concrete applications of Euclid’s propositions. Through this approach, the interplay and convergence in the 16th century between the two traditions of practical and Euclidean geometry contributed to prepare for the development of the new geometry of the 17th century, canonically represented in first instance by Descartes’s 1637 Géométrie,which gave a central place to instrumental procedures and to the numerical treatment of magnitudes in the study and determination of geometrical concepts.

The goal of this talk is to show the different ways in which Euclidean principles and propositions were treated according to a practical approach in the 16th century, and what this meant for the representation and uses of geometry, and of its relation to practical and applied knowledge in the early modern era.

Joachim Jungius and scientific-mathematical investigations on textiles during the 17th century

Michael Friedman

Joachim Jungius (1587–1657), a German logician and mathematician, is mostly well known for his studies in chemistry, logic and botany, and due to the fact that Leibniz highly appreciated his works. However, in one of his hardly researched texts, Texturae Contemplatio, being a collection of notes from the 1630s and 1640s, Jungius investigates mathematically as well scientifically textile practices. These investigations range from offering a geometrical presentation of various weaves, to examining weaves with magnifying lens and seeing textiles as embodying essential characteristics of matter; the latter were brought to exemplify his theory of hypostatical and synhypostatical parts of materials. Moreover, in other notes on textiles, Jungius offers implicitly a critique on what he calls “Sennert’s axioms”, underlining a revision of Sennert’s negative-empirical conception of the atom.

However, Jungius was not the only one interested in textiles and their ways of production scientifically during the 17th century: Robert Hooke also depicted and wrote down his reflections on observing silk and taffeta with a “magnifying glass” in his 1665 Micrographia, as can be seen in his “Observ. IV, Of fine waled Silk: or Taffety.” Samuel Hartlib, in a series of letters written in 1653 and 1657 to several scholars, discussed innovations in weaving, pointing out that certain looms have a close connection with mathematics or with mathematical principles. Leibniz compared an automatic knitting machine, the stocking frame, to his own calculating machines. The talk will examine in which ways Jungius’ various approaches to textiles reflect each other, also in relation to other scholars: how was  Jungius’ mathematical approach unique?  Does his ‘geometrical’ approach to weaving serve as a basis in one way or another to his scientific investigation of materials? And how are the writings of Sennert, on the one hand, and of Hooke, Hartlib and Leinbiz, on the other hand, are to be regarded in light of Jungius’ investigations?

The Mines and the Court: Artisanal Practices and Mathematics in Early Modern Dresden

Thomas Morel

In the early modern period, the Saxon elector was a powerful ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. During the sixteenth-century, his Dresden residence gradually became a major court, attracting numerous scholars and mathematical practitioners. Augustus of Saxony (1526–1586) and some of his successors had a personal inclination for mathematical instruments and constantly encouraged the advancement of sciences. At the same time, the extraction of silver made a substantial share of Saxony’s revenue, and the cultural influence of mining cities was immense.

In this talk, I intend to show how the practical mathematics that first developed in the mining pits of the Ore Mountains found a prominent place at the Dresden court, where it merged with an existing tradition of more academic science. The pathways of two main dynasties of practitioners, the Rieses and the Öders, will be presented in some details. Adam Ries (1492–1559) was a reckoning master who played an important role in the mining administration and was appointed court arithmeticus by the Elector. Georg Öder (?–1535) was an underground surveyor in Annaberg; his son Georg II went on to become court surveyor and acted as a versatile expert for the Elector, drawing maps, solving border conflicts or designing canals and infrastructures.

After both patriarchs contributed to the economic rise of the mining city of Annaberg, their descendants became versatile engineers and courtiers of the Saxon Electors. They collaborated with university professors and instrument-makers, using their skills all over the Electorate and beyond. Their influence was both intellectual and very concrete, temporarily turning the court of Dresden into a centre of practical mathematics. These confrontations of methods and values tells a lot about the transformation that mathematical disciplines were undergoing at the turn of the seventeenth century.

Meeting 61

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

DATE: Tuesday, May 3

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

PANEL: Pierre-Sylvain Régis: At the Edge of Cartesianism

SPEAKERS: Antonella Del Prete (Università della Tuscia), Tad Schmaltz (University of Michigan), Aaron Spink (Dartmouth College)

CONTEXT: Pierre-Sylvain Régis (1632-1707) was one the most well-known Cartesians of the seventeenth century. His star rose first as a promoter of the new Cartesian philosophy. After observing Jacques Rohault’s (1618-1672) popular weekly salons, where Rohault would demonstrate Cartesian principles through experiments and lectures, Régis took that model and replicated it in the south of France with great success. Eventually returning to Paris, Régis’s worked to produce a complete Cartesian textbook, finally published in 1690 as the Système de philosophie and later republished as Cours entier de philosophie ou Système général selon les principles de Descartes the following year. As his celebrity grew, he was inducted into the Académie des Science and had published debates with Nicolas Malebranche, Pierre Daniel Huet, Henri Lelevel, Jean Duhamel, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.


Régis’s Système as Cartesian Cursus

Tad Schmaltz (University of Michigan)

I consider the attempt of Pierre-Sylvain Régis to present a complete cursus of Cartesian philosophy in his Système de philosophie (1st edition, 1690). After discussing the scholastic and Cartesian context of this attempt, I argue that Régis’s goal was to popularize Cartesianism outside of the universities rather than to produce a textbook for use in the schools. I also address the question of how the Système could be seen—as it clearly was by Régis’s contemporaries—as representative of Cartesian position given its striking deviations from Descartes’s own views.

A Cartesian Psychology? Régis on Imagination, Memory, and Judgment

Antonella Del Prete (Università della Tuscia)

In his chapters describing the operations of imagination, memory, and judgment, Régis often interweaves texts from his contemporaries, such as Nicolas Malebranche and Louis de la Forge, suitably modified to be made compatible with Régis’s gnoseology. My aim is twofold. First, I would like to analyze this appropriation of other authors’ thought by identifying how philosophical continuities and discontinuities were constructed. Second, through the study of some specific examples, I want to make some hypotheses about the nature of Régis’s empiricism and Cartesianism, in dialogue with Tad Schmaltz and Aaron Spink.

Pierre-Sylvain Régis’s Empiricist Soul

Aaron Spink (Dartmouth College)

Pierre-Sylvain Régis is often described as an “empiricist,” as he explicitly subscribed to the Peripatetic Axiom, nihil est in intellectu quin prius fuerit in sensus (“nothing is in the intellect except what was previously in the senses”). Régis’s version of the Axiom, following his teacher Dom Robert Desgabets, interpreted the “senses” as the corporeal motion in the sense organs, which required that any change in thought be accompanied by some locomotion in the body. However, this collection of theories was in serious tension with the Cartesian doctrines that the mind was essentially a thinking thing and could exist independently of the body, both of which Régis also held. My goal in this presentation is to show how Régis was forced to reinterpret the soul as having both active and passive properties to pave a middle way between Malebranchean and anti-Malebranchean Cartesians that in turn allowed him to develop a unique and internally consistent role for the immaterial soul.

Meeting 60

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

DATE: Tuesday, April 26

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

PANEL: Spinoza’s Herem Revisited

SPEAKERS: Jonathan Israel (Princeton Institute for Advanced Study), Yitzhak Melamed (Johns Hopkins University), Steve Nadler (University of Wisconsin–Madison), Ronit Palache (University of Amsterdam), Piet Steenbakkers (Utrecht University)

ABSTRACT: It is now almost 370 years since Spinoza was expelled, in wholly exceptional circumstances, from the Portuguese-Jewish community of Amsterdam. Scholars continue to debate the reasons behind the ban and its continued significance. Join Jonathan Israel, Yitzhak Melamed, Steven Nadler, Ronit Palache and Piet Steenbakkers as they discuss this seminal event of Spinoza’s life from various philosophical, historical, religious and contemporary perspectives.

Meeting 59

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DATE: Tuesday, April 19

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

PANEL: Pre-Established Harmonies in Leibniz

SPEAKERS: Ohad Nachtomy (Technion, Israel Institute of Technology), Reed Winegar (Fordham University), Noam Hoffer (Bar-Ilan University), and Uri Eran (Technion, Israel Institute of Technology)


Leibniz’s pre-established harmony is usually presented as his attempt to solve the mind-body problem as formulated by Descartes. On this common view, the Cartesian mind-body problem is understood as the problem of explaining how two essentially different kinds of substances (i.e., the mind and the body) are coordinated such that their inner states seem to influence each other. Pre-established harmony is then presented as primarily or merely a solution to this problem, on which the coordination between mental and bodily states is pre-established by God. Indeed, this common view is suggested by Leibniz himself, who is often eager to point out how his system can deal with or simply avoid the problems inherited from Descartes.

In recent years, however, some scholars (e.g. McDonough) have drawn attention to the fact that there is a variety of harmonies in Leibniz’s system, and have suggested that the doctrine of pre-established harmony involves not a response to Cartesian metaphysics, but rather a radical rejection of this framework (Nadler). Among the different harmonies that structure the Leibnizian system are:

1. A conceptual or modal harmony, that pertains to the complete notions of all substances, and guarantees that their predicates are coordinated.

2. A metaphysical harmony that pertains to all monads, and guarantees that their inner states and action are coordinated.

3. A phenomenal harmony that pertains to bodies and minds as conceived in pre-philosophical thinking.

4.  An explanatory harmony that pertains to teleological explanations of the kind prevalent in practical reasoning and moral psychology, and mechanistic explanations of the kind prevalent in natural science.

5. A theological harmony between the Kingdom of Nature and the Kingdom of Grace.

In our panel, we will explore Leibniz’s understanding of these various harmonies and their intricate relations to one another. By doing so, we wish to bring to light an implicit current in the scholarship on Leibniz, and explore its radical ramifications for understanding the Leibnizian System.

In particular, the panel will discuss the following issues in the work of Leibniz and his successors:

(i) How are the different harmonies in Leibniz’s System related? Are they grounded in each other in a hierarchal manner? If so, how exactly? If not, do they perhaps merely reflect different points of view or understandings of the same fact?

(ii) When and how did Leibniz come to endorse pre-established harmony? What role – if any – did Descartes’ mind-body problem play in adopting this doctrine? What role did hylomorphic metaphysics play in formulating and adopting it?

The panel will consist of four parts (20 mins each, approximately, the rest of the time will be dedicated to discussion and Q&A). Each part will be dedicated to one kind of harmony in Leibniz’s system: conceptual/modal harmony, explanatory harmony, mind-body/phenomenal harmony, and theological harmony (between the Kingdoms of Grace and Nature).

Meeting 58

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DATE: Tuesday, April 12

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

PANEL: English, French, and German Origins in Aesthetics

SPEAKERS: Alexandra Bacalu (University of Bucharest), Michael Deckard (Lenoir-Rhyne University), and Alessandro Nannini (University of Bucharest)


Inward Exercise, Ingenuity, and Enthusiasm in Shaftesbury’s Characteristics

Alexandra Bacalu (University of Bucharest)

In this paper, I examine two significant dimensions of Shaftesbury’s philosophy, which appear to be conflicting at first glance: his incorporation of late Roman Stoic ‘spiritual exercises’ into his proposed self-disciplining method of soliloquy and his rehabilitation of enthusiasm along Platonic lines, the latter of which coexists with a sharp critique of the same passion throughout the Characteristics. My proposal is that Shaftesbury reconciles these two strains of thought by operating a conceptual overlap between the Stoic notions of non-cataleptic and cataleptic impressions, on the one hand, and Platonic notions of physical and ideal beauty, on the other. Accordingly, Stoic exercises emerge in the Characteristics as means of moral training that allow one to cultivate ‘reasonable’ enthusiasm as distinct from its ‘vulgar’ varieties. Scholarship on Shaftesbury’s rehabilitation of enthusiasm agrees that rational regulation represents a crucial component of ‘good’ enthusiasm, whether it is understood as moderation, demonstration, raillery, ridicule, public or private scrutiny. In my paper, I focus on the Stoic dimension of such rational regulation and suggest that it is best understood as the rational guidance of enthusiasm towards its proper objects, which heightens enthusiastic transport rather than tempering or restraining it. I explore this mutual yet complicated interaction between discipline and enthusiasm and probe its relevance for Shaftesbury’s poetics.

Seeing or Hearing Sublimity: Aesthetics as Science in Castel and Du Bos

Michael Deckard (Lenoir-Rhyne University)

In 1719, Emperor K’ang-hsi brought guests from Europe to see his garden on the feast of lanterns. A few years later, Louis-Bertrand Castel in his Nouvelles Experiences d’Optique et d’Acoustique (1734) describes the experience of seeing a magic lantern in the Emperor’s garden and its resemblance to a claim in Newton’s Optics, query fourteen. At the same time, Castel looks at the origin of the sublime in discourse. In the history of science, the relationship of light and sound gained a new significance after Newton. However, a burgeoning field of aesthetics also asked the question of the relationship of light to sound for the artist. Is an aesthetic way of investigating rather opposed to an experimental one? The question Jean-Baptiste Du Bos asks in his Réflexions critiques sur la poésie et sur la peinture (1719), which also influenced David Hume, concerns how obscurity, shadow, and dissonance impact the fine arts of painting, poetry, and music in a way that captures the Newtonian background and highlights an episode in the history of sublime science.

Baumgarten the Beautician. The Origins of Cosmetics as an Aesthetic Discourse

Alessandro Nannini (University of Bucharest)

The question I intend to answer in this paper concerns a blind spot in the history of both cosmetics and aesthetics: when and how does the cosmetic discourse draw closer to the aesthetic discipline? The thesis I aim to advance is that this convergence is rooted in the invention of aesthetics as an independent branch of philosophy in the German Enlightenment. Examining the new aesthetic conceptualization of cosmetics with special regard to Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (1714-1762) and his pupil Georg Friedrich Meier (1718-1777), I aim to investigate both its significance within the cosmetic tradition compared to the usual medical framework and its implications for nascent aesthetics with regard to the relationship with corporeal beauty.

Meeting 57

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DATE: Tuesday, April 5

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

PANEL: Transformations in the Scientific Revolution – a discussion with the editors of The Cambridge History of Philosophy of the Scientific Revolution (CUP, 2022)

SPEAKERS: David Marshall Miller (Auburn University) and Dana Jalobeanu (University of Bucharest)

ABSTRACT: Is the historiographic category of “the Scientific Revolution” worth saving? We think it is. But we take “the Scientific Revolution” to mean simply the sum of all transformations that took place in various fields of knowledge during the seventeenth century. In Kuhnian terminology, scientific revolutions happen within disciplines. And, in a general sense, we indeed see numerous transformations affecting seventeenth-century disciplines – we see new disciplines emerging, others dying out, others branching off. But if we want to describe these transformations precisely, we need to first clarify the concept of ‘discipline’. We will do this through a taxonomy that aims to disentangle the “fields of knowledge” that underwent transformations. Some of these are disciplines properly speaking, while others are not. We will distinguish “communities of practice,” “disciplines,” and “paradigms,” but also “institutions,” “schools,” and “sects,” aiming to set all these units in relation to one another on a taxonomic map that will, we hope, help characterize the various transformations that took place within the Scientific Revolution. 

Meeting 56


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DATE: Tuesday, March 29

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

PANEL: Hume’s Theory of the Self as it relates to the Passions

SPEAKERS: Lorraine Besser (Middlebury College) and Avital Hazony (University of Arizona)

DESCRIPTION: Hume develops his practical conception of the self in the context of pride, where he argues that “pride produces the idea of the self”. While commentators acknowledge a difference between Hume’s idea of the self as it relates to the passions (in Book II of the Treatise) and Hume’s idea of the self as it relates to the imagination (in Book I of the Treatise), there remains much to examine about Hume’s discussion of the former. In this panel, we’ll explore the distinctly social dimensions of the self in Book II, and the depths to which the context of Hume’s discussion of the self of the passions informs the content of the idea of the self.


Hume’s Practical Conception of the Self

Lorraine L. Besser

In his analysis of pride, Hume argues that pride produces the idea of the self. Numerous commentators have suggested that the idea of the self that pride produces is an idea of the self as an agent, stressing the contrast between this idea of the self as it concerns the passions, and the idea of the self as it concerns the imagination. But very little attention has been paid to examining the content of the idea of the self that pride produces.  This paper explores the connection between the self as it concerns the imagination and as it concerns the passions, and argues that Hume’s practical conception of the self contains deeply social elements, suggesting the idea of the self that pride produces is one of the self as a social agent, who deliberates from the first person plural.

Humean Loyalty

Avital Hazony 

In this paper I argue that Hume’s discussion of pride points to a view of the self as extending to include others, thus forming a socially embedded self. I then argue that this view of the self can explain the motive of loyalty. I suggest that loyalty is the motive to act on behalf of those who are part of one’s extended self. Finally, I distinguish loyalty from the motivations acquired through Humean sympathy, by arguing that sympathy is not caused by the extension of the self.