Samuel Clarke was one of Spinoza's earliest and fiercest opponents in England. I uncover three related Clarkean arguments against Spinoza's metaphysic that deserve more attention from readers today. Collectively, these arguments draw out a tension at the very heart of Spinoza's rationalist system. From the conjunction of a necessary being who acts necessarily and the principle of sufficient reason, Clarke reasons that there could be none of the diversity we find in the universe. In doing so, Clarke potentially reveals an (...) inconsistent triad in Spinoza. Responses to this inconsistency map onto a deep division in the contemporary Spinoza literature. I conclude that Clarke's arguments provide a new approach to the recently revived debate over acosmic interpretations of Spinoza and point to new interpretive possibilities. (shrink)
First published Sat Apr 5, 2003; most recent substantive revision Wed Aug 22, 2018. -/- Samuel Clarke (1675–1729) was the most influential British philosopher in the generation between Locke and Berkeley. His philosophical interests were mostly in metaphysics, theology, and ethics.
Spinoza is in a potentially untenable position. On the one hand, he argues that those who claim to see harmony in the universe are badly mistaken; they are falsely imagining rather than properly reasoning. On the other hand, harmony is positively discussed in his ethical writings and even serves as the basis for his vision of society. How can both be maintained? In this chapter l argue that this prima facie conflict between the two treatments of harmony is resolvable, but (...) that in resolving it, a new set of questions for Spinoza is raised. In doing so, I explore how harmony was used in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, which will help us better situate Spinoza. In doing so, we can recognize new possibilities and new connections between Spinoza and philosophers who are not often discussed in connection with him. (shrink)
In discussing the obligation to love everyone, Mary Astell (1666–1731) recognizes and responds to what I call the theocentric challenge: if humans are required to love God entirely, then they cannot fulfill the second requirement to love their neighbor. In exploring how Astell responds to this challenge, I argue that Astell is an astute metaphysician who does not endorse the metaphysical views she praises. This viewpoint helps us to understand the complicated relationship between her views and those of Descartes, Malebranche, (...) Henry More, and John Norris, as well as her sophisticated approach to biblical interpretation and theology. Attending to theocentrism opens up new avenues of research in the study of early modern philosophy. It also helps us to see connections between Astell and other theocentric philosophers such as Spinoza and Anne Conway. (shrink)
Whit Stillman’s films depict characters attempting to gain relevant knowledge of their historical situation so that they can shape their lives. Through an analysis of scenes from each of Stillman’s films, this essay demonstrates that historical knowledge is presented as a kind of self-understanding in the films. That historical knowledge is useful for gaining control over one’s future as well as for properly evaluating one’s life reveals a philosophically interesting approach to self-knowledge. Stillman’s complex approach of layering contexts further suggests (...) an elusive account of the self. (shrink)
Anne Conway and Maria W. Stewart are quietly revolutionary philosophers who provide valuable insights into the nature of suffering and its relation to justice. Conway scholars have claimed that she offers a theodicy, trying to reconcile suffering with the existence of a just God. However, this does not make sense of her arguments or audience. Instead, we should see her as a theoretician of the role of suffering in a person's life. Moving beyond the personal, Stewart's emphasis on social sources (...) of suffering leads her to posit a vision for bringing about a more just society in the near term that is absent in Conway. Both philosophers provide fascinating insight into how to theorize suffering and justice, including the role of unity in a just society. (shrink)
Hume’s criticisms of divine causation are insufficient because he does not respond to important philosophical positions that are defended by those whom he closely read. Hume’s arguments might work against the background of a Cartesian definition of body, or a Malebranchian conception of causation, or some defenses of occasionalism. At least, I will not here argue that they succeed or fail against those targets. Instead, I will lay out two major deficiencies in his arguments against divine causation. I call these (...) “deficiencies” because Hume does not adequately address live positions. This does not mean, of course, that there are not problems with these views or that Hume could not have given strong arguments against them. Rather, Hume’s arguments, which can seem comprehensive to the twenty-first century reader, are in fact not so. For the deficiencies discussed in this essay, I point to writers from Hume’s near context (many of whom we know he read carefully) who held the views not discussed, and I provide reasons why Hume seems not to have entertained these possibilities. I won’t distinguish between accidentally overlooking and actively ignoring. By drawing attention to these three deficiencies, I have two goals. The first is to demonstrate the diversity of seventeenth and early eighteenth century views on divine causation, especially among philosophers in England, Scotland, and Ireland, who are often ignored by philosophers today who, like Hume, focus on continental Cartesians while ignoring British dualists and vitalists. The second goal is to make today’s readers aware of shortcomings in Hume’s arguments to encourage productively contextual readings of Hume and his contemporaries. (shrink)
The shelves of film and philosophy books should have made it considerably easier to teach with films in introductory philosophy classes, and certainly many philosophers have found them useful. However, shortcomings of many of these pop culture volumes (which I discuss in the next section) make these works rarely useful in the classroom. I propose instead a new model for how to teach film in a philosophy class. The model develops the virtues inherent in cinephilia and connects those virtues to (...) the good life. (shrink)
Philosophy’s Artful Conversation draws on Gilles Deleuze, Stanley Cavell, and the later writing by Ludwig Wittgenstein to defend a “philosophy of the humanities.” Both because film studies is historically a site of contention and theoretical upheaval and because Rodowick accepts Cavell’s idea that (at least in the American context) film is philosophy made ordinary, bringing philosophical questions of skepticism and perfectionism into filmgoers’ lives inescapably, it makes sense to build this vision for the humanities out of writing on film. Although (...) presented as a monograph with a single argumentative strand, the book may be more profitably read as three partly distinct works: an examination of the boundaries of theory and philosophy that doubles as a defense of a “philosophy of the humanities,” an interpretation of Deleuze’s work on film that intriguingly prioritizes What Is Philosophy?, and an interpretation of Cavell that argues that his epistemological and ontological questions are subsumed under ethics in a way that pairs well with Deleuze’s emphasis on immanence. (shrink)
Despite the notable lack of Chaplinesque romantic flourishes, Buster Keaton has a sophisticated approach to romantic love in his films. Love in Keaton’s films is a mutual recognition and admiration for the physical and mental competence necessary to deal with an absurd, cruel, or indifferent social and physical environment and an agreement to face the world together. There are two ways in which this claim might seem surprising to someone familiar with Keaton’s films. Keaton’s famously stoic persona seems to be (...) at odds with the very idea that there is an expression of romantic love in the films. How could someone so un-expressive express romantic love? There is simply not enough there to be interpreted. Additionally, the topic of love seems to be the wrong approach to take toward Keaton, the master of the gag. His films are original and interesting and funny because of their visual wit, not because of their thematic value. Watching his films for themes is to miss what is valuable about them. In answering these objections, I will set the stage for my argument that Keaton’s narratives assume the viewer recognizes the Buster character is in love while withholding many of the traditional emotional signifiers of that love. The narrative cannot proceed without this assumption and many of the gags don’t work without recognizing Buster’s motivation. Through careful attention to the resolution of the stories within the films, we can begin to recognize the surprising, sophisticated approach to romantic love that the films contain. (shrink)
Anne Conway (1631–1679) was one of the most intellectually adventurous and well-read philosophers of religion in the seventeenth century. Her unfinished systematic treatise, posthumously published as The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, moves from the divine attributes through a theodicy based on universal salvation to a rejection of substance dualism. Her approach demonstrates a syncretist approach to religion that blends multiple intellectual traditions, including Cambridge Platonism, Quakerism, and the Kabbalah. Her admirers included Henry More, Francis von Helmont, (...) and G.W. Leibniz. (shrink)
Samuel Clarke (1675–1729) profoundly shaped early eighteenth-century European philosophy with an a priori demonstration of the existence of God and influential defenses of substance dualism and human freedom. Throughout his works, he defended absolute space, the passivity of matter, and constant divine activity in the world, which jointly provided a metaphysical basis for the quickly popularizing Newtonian thought.
A decade after developing a modal cosmological argument for God's existence and attributes, Samuel Clarke (1675–1729) debated Leibniz on miracles, divine freedom, and the nature of the world. Clarke's theories of freedom, divine activity, the soul, and ethics influenced Joseph Butler, Jonathan Edwards, David Hume, Thomas Reid, and many others. His attacks on the materialism, pantheism, and “atheism” of Thomas Hobbes, Spinoza, John Toland, Anthony Collins, and the deists were interwoven with his defenses of Newtonian natural philosophy, which he was (...) largely responsible for popularizing. His research on and theory of the Trinity was a milestone of early eighteenth-century philosophical theology. (shrink)
The volume is an excellent introduction to experimental natural philosophy and to moral and political philosophy in English-speaking countries in the seventeenth century, but the reader should be aware that other historically significant and philosophically interesting arguments from the period are not addressed.