The Duchess of Disunity: Margaret Cavendish on the Materiality of the Mind

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Sometimes we love and hate the same thing at the same time. Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673)—the maverick early modern materialist—appeals to this type of passionate conflict to argue that the mind is a material thing. When our passions conflict, the mind or reason conflicts with itself. From this Cavendish infers that the mind has parts and, therefore, is material. Cavendish says this argument is among the best proofs of the mind’s materiality. And yet, the existing scholarship on Cavendish lacks the kind of detailed reconstruction required to evaluate this argument’s merits. In this paper, I provide just such a reconstruction. I also show that Cavendish’s argument is an effective intervention in her dispute with René Descartes and Henry More about the (im)materiality of the mind.



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Colin Chamberlain
University College London

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