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16 sept. 2012

Univ. Grenoble, European Society for Early Modern Philosophy, The 3rd International Conference, Progr. et papiers: "Debates, Polemics and Controversies in Early Modern Philosophy," Grenoble, Jan. 30th-Feb 1st, 2013

ESEMP 2013
Université de Grenoble
European Society for Early Modern Philosophy
The 3rd International Conference 
Programme et papiers

Debates, Polemics and Controversies
in Early Modern Philosophy

January 30th-February 1st, 2013
The 3rd International Conference of the European Society for Early Modern Philosophy, Debates, Polemics and Controversies in Early Modern Philosophy, will take place from January 30th to February 1st, 2013, at the Université de Grenoble, France.

The Conference was announced here. There was a Call for papers. You may now find the Program and abstracts here.

Should you want to come, we recommend a quite early registration. The Registration Forms are here, in English, German, or French.

European Society for Early Modern Philosophy: 3rd International Conference

Debates, Polemics and Controversies in Early Modern Philosophy
January 30th to February 1st, 2013, Université de Grenoble, France

1. Conference statement                                                                                                    
2. General schedule                                                                                                           
3. Abstracts                                                                                                                        
            3.1. Plenary lectures                                                                                               
            3.2. Papers                                                                                                              
            3.3. Colloquia                                                                                                          


The general objective of the conference is to take an overview of the present historiographical situation regarding the study of controversies and to contribute to a reappraisal of the study of controversies in the history of early modern philosophy. It will aim not only at mapping the many philosophical controversies of the early modern period, but as well at making explicit the different methodological approaches that can be used to analyse controversies and at evaluating the different explanatory merits of those methodological approaches.

1. Why should we study philosophical controversies?
At least since the 1970s, studies of scientific controversies have become a well-defined domain within Studies of Scientific Knowledge (SSK), Science and Technology Studies (STS), and History and Philosophy of Science (HPS). In these fields, the analysis of controversies has come to be seen as an important methodological tool to grasp processes that are not always visible within the sciences.  By contrast,  the study of controversies does not yet constitute a major genre in the history of philosophy. There are some excellent isolated studies of controversies in the history of philosophy, but the most frequent genre remains a monograph devoted to an author or to a concept.  
As in the sciences however, the study of controversies in philosophy can help to reconstruct and understand the historical elaboration of new concepts, new methods, new arguments and new systems. Indeed, a controversy drives into a corner the philosophers who are involved in it; they are obliged to make explicit what was implicit or even unthought in their previous writings. Hence, the study of controversies fully belongs to the history of philosophy insofar as it aims at giving a rational reconstruction of a philosophical thought.
Moreover, it can bring to the fore some usually hidden dimensions of philosophy, for example tacit conventions concerning its writing, or broad assumptions about its social functions. Thus, some socio-historical questions concerning the practices of philosophy may be addressed through the study of a controversy: Who was engaged in this controversy and through which medium? What was its forum? Which institutions, in a broad sense, played a role in it? How did external constraints and eventually censorship intervene in it?
Finally, the study of philosophical controversies can be the occasion for testing tools borrowed from the contemporary pragmatic turn in the philosophy of language and for elaborating new formal tools.
To sum up, the study of controversies is an important part of history of philosophy; it opens it up to intellectual history, as well as to more formal analysis.

2. What is meant by “debates”, “polemics” and “controversies”?
A debate/polemic/controversy should be distinguished from other forms of intellectual exchanges by the three following characteristics:
i) By contrast with fictional dialogues and criticisms addressed to dead authors, a debate/polemic/controversy unfolds between at least two real living authors, with the result that neither of them can fully control its outcome.
ii) By contrast with peaceful consensual exchanges, a debate/polemic/controversy includes confrontation, dissension and disagreement. This opposition plays out at different levels: it may be personal or impersonal; it may concern the relevance and extension of a concept or to the truth of a proposition; or it may relate to the content of a philosophy or to its communication.  
iii) By contrast with protracted discussions, a debate/polemic/controversy has a bounded nature: even when it deals with a so-called timeless problem, it is localised in space and time.
That said, there are some differences betweens a “debate,” a “polemic,” and a “controversy.” And beside these three terms, there are still other terms used to describe exchanges that may present the three characteristics just mentioned: “discussion,” “dispute,” “quarrel,” etc.  As these terms are not synonymous, they invite us to introduce distinctions according to the answers that are given to the following questions:
— Are there recognised procedures for regulating and even closing the controversy? Unlike a discussion, what is commonly called a dispute is in principle endless, even when it comes to an accidental end, for example, through the death of the disputants. For, unlike “discutants,” the “disputants” do not agree on which procedures should be adopted to regulate or even to close their controversy.
— What is the aim of the controversy? A discussion can aim at achieving a consensus, when the discutants agree, not only on the procedures to be adopted to close the controversy, but also on certain broad assumptions. A discutant can also aim at reaching a tolerant settlement; in that case, each discutant recognises that the broad assumptions on which the other discutants rely are legitimate, even though he does not personally accept them.
— What kind of forum is chosen for the controversy? Is public opinion of some kind referred to in the controversy and if so what is its function? Even if they are embodied in publications, some controversies may be classified as “private,” insofar as they involve only the authors concerned. But there are also debates that involve a form or another of “public opinion,” whose delineation is a matter of debate as well.
— How are rational arguments interwoven with more eristic considerations? The rational aim of a controversy is to settle a set of problems, whereas the eristic aim of a quarrel or a polemic is to defeat one’s adversaries. Hence, “quarrel” and “polemic” usually refer to conflicts between two embittered personalities, but a polemical dimension exists in most controversies.
Different answers to these questions can be combined in many ways. Further, today’s terminology does not always correspond to terminologies used in the past, and these terminologies vary from one language to another.  For these reasons, no strict typology of controversies will be imposed on the participants in the conference. Nevertheless, the three terms used in its title, “debates,” “controversies” and “polemics” express the formal diversity of controversies and invite the participants to give a formal characterisation of the controversies under study.

3. Why were there so many philosophical controversies in the early modern period?
While the early modern period is sometimes still presented as the period when the rational foundations of our contemporary world were discovered and immediately expressed in beautiful systems, it might be considered as the Golden Age for debates, polemics and controversies. The Republic of Letters was resounding with fearless discussions, acrimonious disputes and endless quarrels.
The Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, the new philosophies calling into question the ancient authorities, produced many controversies, whether for promoting new philosophies against the ancient ones, for defending the ancient philosophiees against new ones, for identifying the essential characteristics of the ancient philosophies, or for deciding which among the new philosophies should be privileged. Replacing authority by reason has indeed some consequences. The principle of authority amounts to saying: “it is so because it is so”. But once authority has been replaced by reason, reasons should be given for everything.
In such contexts, early modern philosophers mobilised ancient as well as new material forms of communication. The scholastic oral disputations and the religious quarrels of the Renaissance were still in use; the exchange of letters was developed in an unprecedented manner; short publications in pamphlets and in newly arisen journals began to be formalised. As philosophy was practiced outside from the Schools, the boundaries between controversies within the world of the learned and more public debates were sometimes blurred.
The practices of early modern philosophers engaged in controversies would thus gain from being compared to the practices of their predecessors in the Renaissance and of their followers in the Enlightenment.


Wednesday the 30th
Thursday the 31th
Friday the 1st
Welcome Address
Plenary lecture I (60’)
M. Dascal
Discussion (30’)

Plenary lecture II (60’)
U. Goldenbaum
Discussion (30’)

Plenary lecture III (60’)
M. R. Antognazza
Discussion (30’)
Papers 1 & 2
— Papers 1
M.-F. Pellegrin (30’+15’)
R. Schüssler (30’+15’)

— Papers 2
D. Heider (30’+15’)
J. Schmutz (30’+15’)
Papers 3 & 4
— Papers 3
J. Halford (30’+15’)
B. Gide (30’+15’)

— Papers 4
J. Olsthoorn (30’+15’)
R. Glauser (30’+15’)

Papers 5 & 6
— Papers 5
D. Collacciani (30’+15’)
A. Strazzoni (30’+15’)

— Papers 6
L. Hess (30’+15’)
A. Ferraro (30’+15’)

Lunch Break
Colloquia 1 (metaphysics)
& 2 (natural phil.)

— Colloquium 1
S. Hutton (30’+15’)
I. Agostini (30’+15’)

— Colloquium 2 
C. Lüthy (30’+15’)
D. Bellis (30’+15’)
Colloquia 3 (moral phil.)
& 4 (epistemology)

— Colloquium 3
G. Boros (30’+15’)
S. Ebbersmeyer (30’+15’)

— Colloquium 4 
M. Chottin (30’+15’)
L. Berchielli  (30’+15’)
Colloquia 5 (politics)
& 6 (sciences)

— Colloquium 5
J. Terrel (30’+15’)
H. Dawson (30’+15’)

— Colloquium 6 
S. Corneanu (30’+15’)
R. Andrault (30’+15’)
Colloquia 1 (metaphysics)
& 2 (natural phil.)

— Colloquium 1
J.-P. Anfray (30’+15’)
F. Piro (30’+15’)

— Colloquium 2 
V. Viljanen (30’+15’)
S. Schmid (30’+15’)
Colloquia 3 (moral phil.)
& 4 (epistemology)

— Colloquium 3
M. Pécharman (30’+15’)
P. Kail (30’+15’)

— Colloquium 4 
F. Wunderlich (30’+15’)
V. Lähteenmäki (30’+15’)
Colloquia 5 (politics)
& 6 (sciences)

— Colloquium 5
C. Larrère (30’+15’)
M. Schabas (30’+15’)

— Colloquium 6 
M. Valleriani (30’+15’)
K. Vermeir (30’+15’)

Plenary meeting ESEMP


Conference dinner


  • Marcelo Dascal (Tel Aviv) : t.b.c.

  • Maria Rosa Antognazza (King’s College London), “Insightful objections are always useful”: debates, polemics and controversies in Leibniz

This paper will explore the formal diversity of some of the debates, polemics and controversies in which Leibniz has been involved. Attention will be devoted to Leibniz’s practice of the ars disputandi, to the genre of controversy in theological literature and, in particular, to the issue De Judice Controversiarum (‘of the judge of controversies’) in religious matters, to Leibniz’s project of the characteristica universalis as a tool for settling disagreement, to his participation to the sprawling Trinitarian polemics of the time, and to his unwilling involvement in sterile disputes, including the controversy over the discovery of the calculus. The paper will conclude by assessing a model for the advancement of knowledge which is not afraid of disagreement and objections, while seeking a peaceful resolution of conflict. “So one gradually advances, responding to the demands of the moment” Leibniz writes to Bossuet in 1694. Indeed, according to this model, “insightful objections are always useful, and serve to better clarify the truth” (LH I 20 Bl. 132; ca 1708; unpublished).

  • Ursula Goldenbaum (Emory University), Exploring Public Debates to Understand the Philosophical Argument

History of philosophy has been done for the most time as history of ideas as if ideas would have a history on their own. In this view, philosophers took up problems and tried to solve them thereby using theoretical results of past philosophers or criticizing them for their failure. In this way history of ideas was seen as a history of progress, with some stern thinkers as well as some losers. This kind of history of ideas is under attack now for a while but is still common. The most excellent and systematic critique of it has been given by the historian Quentin Skinner who showed how there cannot exist such history of ideas (thus confirming the famous saying of Marx and Engels in the German Ideology).
However, when Skinner considers history of ideas simply as the history of various utterances by various actors according to their various intentions under various circumstances – he lost somehow the rationality of the arguments and thus the possibility to qualify them as good or bad arguments. There is no longer a right or wrong position but simply locally different intentions and circumstances. But history of philosophy is part of philosophy and philosophical positions differ in terms of their inner coherence. In philosophy, at least, we can still judge the quality of an argument at whatever time it has been made, even if it serves an apologetic goal (the intention of an actor).
Although ideas have no history on their own, human beings who think them do have a coherent history and it is not by chance that they develop particular ideas in particular circumstances in order to understand them, to make sense of the world, to justify their actions, and last but not least to reject ideas by which they feel questioned or threatened. Therefore they use strategies to convince or, if impossible, to polemicize against concurrent opinions. This competition of ideas produced by actors who act together or against each other by arguments, necessarily produces controversies which can flourish more or less given more or less opportunity, as e.g. the number of people capable to actively or passively participate, censorship, media for communication, or the degree of urgency.
While such controversies remained within the field of small groups of experts in early modern science and philosophy, the period of enlightenment sees a great expansion of active and passive participants. Above all, the audience increasingly included all educated people even those who were no academics at all. This audience was then called the public and I call those controversies that included this audience public debates. While it is of the outmost interest for the understanding of philosophical ideas to study controversies (because they can expose the reason of one philosopher for holding a contrary position to that of his opponents) they only allow us to understand the tension between two or a few positions concerning one or a few questions. In contrast, public debates include a much larger group of participants, from philosophers, Journalists, censors, state administrators and rulers, judges, theologians, scientists to common people reading the newspapers.
Investigating public debates of early modern time faces a huge material and is thus extremely time consuming. It is however very rewarding when one can situate single philosophers in the field of a broader intellectual discussion and identify their position as that of one particular camp or as opposed to another one (instead of agreeing or disagreeing with just any another philosopher). The belonging to such camps also crosses the disciplines, certain philosophers ally with certain theologians, scientists, etc. against another camp with people from as mixed disciplines. Following the course of public debates shows us what are the core arguments of these camps in favor of some key positions and against some others shared by the entire camps. On this basis, the original ideas of a philosopher suddenly appear quite common to one of the camps although worked out in particular clarity. Being part of philosophy, history of philosophy is especially interested in this clarity, i.e. in the logical coherence of an argument. To understand the argument in the first place, it has to be understood though as the answer to an open problem. This problem can be identified by looking for the public debate it belongs to.
Understanding philosophical ideas through debates, does not only allow us to see how ideas spread, they also show us how such ideas originated under the pressure of a public debate. Defending a position held by his camp against the criticism of his opponents, a philosopher had to come up with new arguments that could resist and even overcome those of the opposed camp – but by the strength of his arguments. Thus studying public debates does no longer explain the development of a philosopher by simply pointing to certain books he read, and from which he picked up or dismissed certain ideas. By knowing the public debates we know about the then-current and urgent problems that caused the need for new answers. It goes without saying that philosophers used past philosophers’ arguments if possible to work out their own solutions.
         I distinguish a public debate from any other controversy by the following criteria: a discourse developing and ending within a period of a few years, that goes beyond local interest, involves more than just a few participants, gets the attention of a wider, i.e. a public audience, and above all in which the participants mutually refer to each other. I will illustrate my plea for the study of public debates by historians of philosophy by two case studies, Alexander Baumgarten’s “invention of esthetics” at the peak of the public debate on the Wertheim Bible, and Kant’s sharp distinction of moral and legal law in light of the public debate between Pietists and Wolffians about the question whether a human being without religion can be moral.



  • Marie-Frédérique Pellegrin (Lyon), La querelle des femmes est-elle une querelle ? Le rôle de la philosophie dans l’histoire du féminisme

On parle beaucoup de « Querelle des femmes » pour désigner l’immense collection d’écrits misogynes et philogynes produits depuis le Moyen âge jusqu’aux Lumières. Et on lie souvent cette querelle à celle des Anciens et des Modernes. Or ces deux affirmations peuvent être discutées, comme je me propose de le démontrer.
D’abord parce qu’il n’est pas sûr que l’on puisse établir une continuité historique entre tous ces textes, censés constituer un ensemble cohérent décrivant une véritable querelle, la « Querelle des femmes ». Il faudra ici scruter la pertinence de cette expression même. Y a-t-il combat de plume, avec des protagonistes aux points de vue antagonistes consistants et identifiables ? Cet éventuel combat procède-t-il par comparaison et opposition, comme dans toute bonne querelle intellectuelle ?
Ensuite parce qu’il existe des ruptures importantes dans les thématiques propres à ces écrits, qui constituent autant de débats différents, de controverses distinctes les unes des autres. On veut ainsi démontrer que, dans la querelle dite des femmes, la principale rupture se produit au XVIIe siècle et sur un terrain philosophique. Il concerne la nature même de la femme et plus précisément la nature de son esprit.
Cette rupture est l’œuvre de François Poulain de la Barre (1647-1723), auteur de trois traités féministes écrits entre 1673 et 1675. Avec lui s’achève une forme ancienne de ce que l’on appelle la « Querelle des femmes ». Il promeut en effet d’une part l’idée d’égalité (jusqu’alors très minoritaire dans les traités philogynes qui privilégient la thèse de la supériorité des femmes sur les hommes). Il décide d’autre part de parler en philosophe, et plus précisément en philosophe cartésien, pour présenter ses arguments. Ses trois traités sont remarquables par la manière dont ils tentent, non seulement de se détacher des traditions argumentatives propres à cette « querelle », mais de les renouveler profondément et définitivement. Car c’est en analysant la nature même du composé humain, c’est-à-dire le corps et l’esprit, et l’union entre ces deux substances que l’on peut déterminer si les hommes et les femmes sont égaux ou non.
Dans l’histoire de l’émancipation féminine, la césure ne se situe pas à l’époque des Lumières, mais un siècle auparavant. Dès lors, et ce sera le dernier jalon de ma réflexion, on peut se demander si l’émancipation féminine fait partie des thèmes des « Modernes » ; si donc, en d’autres termes, la « querelle des femmes » rencontre la querelle des Anciens et des Modernes. Je proposerai ici notamment une relecture critique des thèses de J. Israel sur la radicalité. Le but sera finalement de mettre en exergue le rôle de la philosophie dans une querelle souvent présentée comme une querelle avant tout littéraire.
Si mes analyses relèvent au premier chef de l’histoire de la philosophie, elles mobilisent en définitive également l’histoire des idées et certains débats présents dans les études de genre concernant le rôle du cartésianisme dans l’histoire du féminisme.

  • Rudolf Schüssler (Bayreuth), Jesuit opinion pluralism and the controversy over probabilism

The controversy over probabilism, a doctrine of Catholic moral theology with wideranging  philosophical implications, convulsed the Catholic Church and above all the Jesuit order in the 17th century. Scholastic probabilists followed Bartolomé de Medina, a Dominican professor in Salamanca, who had claimed in his commentary (1577) on Aquinas’ Summa that one may follow any probable opinion in conscience even if a counter-opinion is more probable. The internal strive that resulted from the controversy over probabilism contributed to the Jesuit’s downfall in the 18th century and its shockwaves were still felt in the Kulturkampf of the 19th century. All too often, however, the battle between probabilists and their enemies is merely framed as one of Jesuits versus Jansenists or lax (i.e. loose) and rigorous moralists. Pascal’s bestselling “Provincial Letters” set the tone in this respect. Thus, the deeper philosophical issues which emerged in the controversy are largely lost. One of these deeper issues concerns reasonable disagreement and a pluralism of opinions. By the middle of the 17th century the scholastic debate on probabilism had begun to focus on the question whether each of two incompatible probable propositions can be asserted by reasonable persons. Of course, the reasonable assertability of a contradiction was denied. Reasonable assertability of two logically contradictory propositions meant assertability by different persons with comparable intellectual standing. Such persons are called epistemic peers today. In short, scholastic probabilists and anti-probabilists approached the problems of reasonable disagreement. They did so from two antagonistic perspectives. The opponents of probabilism, led by Tirso Gonzalez, considered opinions probable precisely if they were reasonably assertable, which was in their eyes impossible for opinions that were less probable than a counter opinion. An explicit reference to reasonable assertability had been lacking in medieval and more generally in pre-17th century definitions of “probable opinion”. The main root of scholastic probability had been Aristotle’s concept of endoxon. Hence, an opinion was considered probabilis if it was held by “the many or the wise”. Since it was assumed that two logically incompatible opinions could both be probabilis, the question of reasonable assertability for such opinions was implied but to my best knowledge never explicitly analyzed in the Middle Ages.
Problems of two-sided reasonable assertability gained the attention of scholastic theorists only in the wake of Medina’s stunning doctrine of probabilism, but not only for its opponents. Defenders of probabilism, such as Martín de Esparza and Anthony Terill, tried to show with intricate arguments why an equally or less probable opinion could nevertheless be reasonably assertable. They based their claims on a distinction between commensurable and incommensurable reasons. The debate in question gave the struggle for probabilism a decidedly epistemological turn and within a few decades it produced an analytical framework for reasonable pluralism. Yet fittingly, one might think, work on the theoretical foundations of reasonable pluralism led the Jesuit order straight into what is today often called the paradox of pluralism. The paradox of pluralism claims that reasonable pluralism must condone reasonable anti-pluralistic positions. Tirso Gonzalez, Superior General of the Jesuit order from 1687 to 1705, used precisely this argument for combating probabilism. Of course, the argument presupposes that its addressees cherish reasonable pluralism, an assumption that stands in stark contrast to the traditional cliché of the Jesuits as homogeneous fighting force of the Counter-reformation. In fact, however, 17th century Jesuits accepted a considerable breadth of opinions in theological and practical moral matters on the basis of probable reasoning. Many Baroque Jesuits regarded this openness for diverse opinions as a peculiar asset of their order. For this reason, Gonzalez could argue that the Jesuits should be open to the propagation of antiprobabilistic doctrines on an equal footing with probabilism. Gonzalez’ campaign was supported by the pope and the Holy Office but it nevertheless ran into serious trouble. The influential assistants of the Superior General rebelled and large parts of the Jesuit order refused to abandon probabilism. Years of acerbic internal trench warfare in the Jesuit order ensued. As a consequence, creative theorizing on reasonable disagreement virtually came to a standstill. Probabilism survived as a doctrine of moral guidance in the Catholic Church. Yet the detailed analyses of its epistemological basis, which proliferatedin the second half of the 17th century, were largely forgotten.
From a methodological point of view it has to be asked whether an application of concepts such as reasonable pluralism to scholastic doctrines is anachronistic. Pluralism is a concept that acquired its present meaning at the turn of the 20th century. However, the specific difference of opinion pluralism to relativism is that reasonable disagreement can arise without problems of translation and mutual understanding. This appears as a particularly apt characterization of differences of opinion between scholastics which shared a common intellectual culture and could follow each others’ arguments very well. Moreover, reasonable assertability and commensurability of reasons are simply translations of the Latin phrases that were used by Baroque scholastics.[1] Hence, we should not be too hesitant to employ these concepts with respect to 17th century scholasticism.
The paper will unfold its story in three steps. It will first (Section 1) introduce the probabilism controversy as it is usually discussed in sources and in the research literature. Section 2 will show how and why Baroque scholastic analyses concerning the choice of probable opinions began to employ the concepts of reasonable assertability and reasonable defensibility for rival opinions in the middle of the 17th century. Section 3 will from the perspective of pluralism retell the story of Gonzalez’


  • Daniel Heider (University of South Bohemia), The Controversy in Baroque Scotism: Bartholomew Mastrius (Bonaventure Belluto) and John Punch on Universal Unity and Second Intentions

The paper treats the issue of formal (fully-fledged) universality in the concepts of two (actually three, if Mastrius’s collaborator Bonaventure Belluto is taken into account as well) antipodean Scotists of the 17th century, namely of the Italian Conventual Bartholomew Mastrius (1602-1673) and the Irish Observant John Punch (1599 or 1603-1661). The emphasis shall be laid on Punch’s claims about the real character of universal unity and of second intentions that is strictly denied by Mastri and Belluto as basically destroying the classical notion of being of reason with a foundation in a thing. Just that Punch’s refusal of this conceptual being with the foundation in thing shall be presented as the decisive dismissal of the basic moderate doctrinal feature of moderate realism and the anticipation of early modern psychologism.

  • Jacob Schmutz (Université Paris-Sorbonne), La controverse du péché philosophique : retour sur un des grands débats théologiques de la fin du XVIIe siècle

La controverse dite du « péché philosophique » fut l’une des plus importantes controverses doctrinales au sein de l’Eglise catholique durant les deux dernières décennies du XVIIe siècle. Comme souvent dans les controverses doctrinales, le concept du « péché philosophique » a pour la première fois été formulé explicitement et publiquement par ceux qui le condamnent, à savoir dans un décret papal d’Alexandre VIII du 24 août 1690 : par opposition au péché « théologique » classique qui est une transgression de la loi divine, le péché « philosophique » serait un acte opposé à la nature rationnelle et à la droite raison, qui ne détruit pas pour autant l’amitié entre Dieu et l’homme et n’implique pas de damnation éternelle. La possibilité d’un tel acte a divisé toute la théologie de l’époque (le péché philosophique est défendu par les Jésuites et certains franciscains, et rejeté violemment par les rigoristes et les jansénistes), mais a également rencontré un certain écho auprès des philosophes, d’Arnauld à Leibniz.
Dans notre contribution, nous aimerions présenter les enjeux philosophiques de cette controverse exemplaire : (1) nous retracerons les origines de cette thèse dans la théologie scolastique du XVIIe siècle, en apportant des sources complémentaires aux études classiques de Th. Deman (1933), H. Beylard (1935) et L. Ceyssens (1964) ; (2) nous étudierons les problèmes que pose la doctrine du péché philosophique du point de vue de la philosophie de l’action, en examinant en détail ce qui constitue la moralité d’un acte selon les différentes écoles en présence ; (3) enfin, nous évaluerons l’importance de cette controverse pour le développement d’une éthique sécularisée au cours du XVIIIe siècle, pour laquelle la référence au commandement divin est devenue obsolète ou inutile.


  • Jake Halford, The role of the dialogue genre in constructing controversy and conflict in the period 1640-1665

Controversy and debate can only exist when there are two or more conflicting parties who are in communication with each other. Text and ideas only become controversial when they are placed in a relationship to other texts and ideas.
Controversy is thus inherently dialogic. It requires a point of opposition to reveal it and can only be exposed and understood as part of a conversation, which may be conducted both directly and indirectly through textual and verbal mediums, between two, or more, authors. The dialogue not only reflects controversy but also provides a space in which controversy can be articulated and confined -­‐ it is thus not only a means of conveying ideas but also a way in which controversy can be contained and dialogue itself may even be a remedy, a way of resolving or moderating the conflict. Because the dialogue genre is a representation of an act of communication that highlights debate and controversy, understanding the dialogue genre and its relationship to controversy and debate can enhance our understanding of the nature of debates in the early modern period. Yet, with the exception of the work of Virginia Cox and John Snyder, the study of this important genre in the early modern period has been sadly neglected.
In this paper I will argue that dialogue was used as a structuring agent by early modern writers and as a means to educate and orientate readers about where the chief points of disagreement in a debate lay. I will focus on the years 1640-­‐1665, a period of major turmoil throughout Britain, during which period over two hundred and fifty dialogues were published. Many of these were anonymous and utilised the form as a means to voice various criticisms of the new and old political and religious philosophies. To demonstrate how the dialogue served as a blueprint of debate and controversy I will highlight two functions that the dialogue genre played in early modern debates during this period.
Firstly, a dialogue provided a controlled forum in which controversies could be articulated, defined, defended and ultimately in some cases seen to be reconciled. Dialogues in this form tended to be amongst friends such as Samuel Eaton’s dialogue A friendly debate on a weighty subject: or, a conference by writing betwixt Mr Samuel Eaton and Mr John Knowles concerning the divinity of Iesus Christ: for the beating out, and further clearing up of truth (1650). The dialogue in this instance was a means for participants to discuss disagreements in amicable terms and ultimately to discover the truth amongst themselves. However not all dialogues mediated the controversy in such civilised manner. Many used the format to make an opponent look humiliated, weak or ridiculous. For instance the anonymous Dispute betwixt two clergie-­men upon the roade in which is discovered how unhumanly the one set upon the other in his journey, and at last rejected his company, refusing to dispute with him (1651) used the form to humiliate the clergy by highlighting the cleric’s inability to engage and defend his position. Others used the form as a means of misrepresenting and ridiculing prominent figures such as in A dialogue betwixt the ghosts of Charls the I, late King of England: and Oliver the late usurping Protector (1659) which depicts Oliver Cromwell as being in Hell and repenting of his mistaken ways. This dialogue artificially but imaginatively pitted two opponents together in a conversation that would otherwise never have occurred.
Secondly, I will probe the means by which dialogues made controversies public and accessible to a wide audience. Peter Gunning used this linguistic mechanism in his dialogue Schism Unmasked (1658) ‘wherein is defined both what schisme is, and to whom it belongs.’ The dialogue form was often said by its authors to have been chosen by virtue of its ability to make ideas more comprehensible and familiar to the readers. It allowed writers to use a vulgar and vernacular language to make ideas comprehensible to common readers allowing the dialogue to function as a means of publicising the controversy beyond an educated elite. The dialogue form also instructed readers as to how the controversy could be navigated. The dialogue gave them a set of responses that could be made in the disputes they might have encountered in real life or to buttress belief in a certain viewpoint. This can be seen in a dialogue by William Catan that was to be a ‘description of several objections which are summed up together and treated upon by way of conference’: the dialogue within it was a means by which he could show ‘answers to the many objections that are frequently produced by their opponents.’
My paper thus explores one of the most commonly used genres of the early modern period during one of the bitterest periods of conflict, in order to sketch some of their key functions and characteristics. The aim is to highlight the importance not just of content but also of form, an approach that should be of interest as much to the literary critic as the historian.

  • Benoit Gide (Lyon), Les silences polémiques de Hume et Reid concernant le sens commun et le scepticisme

Tous les ingrédients de la polémique et de la controverse sont réunis dans le cas de Hume et Reid : parfaitement contemporains, de même nationalité, ayant des interlocuteurs intellectuels communs, mais tenants d’options philosophiques opposées, occupant des positions et fonctions sociales différentes, ayant adopté des genres de vie fort différents. Reid revendique son opposition à Hume comme moteur de la construction de toute sa pensée, il est membre actif de groupes chrétiens de discussion critique de la philosophie de celui-ci, et est associé à des auteurs de pamphlets anti-humiens virulents. Il n’y eut pourtant aucun échange polémique entre eux : leur brève correspondance fut courtoise, et Hume, malgré sa connaissance des critiques reidiennes de l’Inquiry into the Human Mind (1764), s’abstint de toute réponse. Les autres écrits de Reid sont publiés après la mort de Hume et ne peuvent donc compter comme pièces d’une polémique. À s’en tenir à la lettre des textes publiés, le rapport des deux auteurs est identique à celui de deux auteurs successifs et non contemporains.
Cependant, neuf mois avant de mourir, Hume fait publier en entête de ses Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects (qui contiennent en particulier l’Enquête sur l’entendement humain de 1748 et l’Enquête sur les principes de la morale de 1751) un « Avertissement » qui accuse Reid – sans le nommer – d’avoir recouru, contre lui, à un « procédé contraire à toutes les règles de la bonne foi et du franc jeu ; exemple puissant des artifices polémiques qu’un zèle bigot se pense autorisé à employer »[2]. Dans la lettre à laquelle ce texte est joint, Hume requalifie les Enquêtes de « réponse complète au Dr Reid »[3]. Il faut donc comprendre en quoi Reid serait malhonnête à l’égard de Hume dans son texte de 1764, et en quoi les Enquêtes constituraient une réponse à celui-ci.
Le procédé malhonnête en question consiste à avoir concentré l’intégralité des attaques contre le Traité de 1739-40. En effet, Reid, en 1764 et jusqu’à la mort de son compatriote, en s’obstinant à traiter Hume comme s’il était toujours le sceptique outré de 1739, passe entièrement sous silence tout l’effort de l’Enquête de 1748 qui définit un scepticisme mitigé « qui peut, en partie, résulter du pyrrhonisme, de ce scepticisme outré, quand on en corrige, dans une certaine mesure, le doute indifférencié par le sens commun et la réflexion »[4] et soutient que « les décisions philosophiques ne sont que les décisions de la vie courante rendues méthodiques et corrigées »[5]. De la même manière, lors des réunions de l’Aberdeen Philosophical Society (avant 1764) et de la Glasgow Literary Society (après 1764), comme dans ses cours de Glasgow sur la jurisprudence naturelle[6], il traite Hume comme un sceptique moral hobbesien, alors que l’Enquête de 1751 commence, dès le premier paragraphe, par disqualifier le caractère tenable du scepticisme moral et s’attache ensuite, tout au long du texte, à expliciter les critères implicites effectivement à l’œuvre dans le jugement moral ordinaire et commun. Ainsi, lorsqu’en 1764 Reid propose de recourir au sens commun contre un scepticisme de Hume, c’est en passant consciemment sous silence la substitution – pourtant cruciale – du scepticisme mitigé au scepticisme outré, et donc sans jamais tenir compte des thèses humiennes concernant l’accommodement possible du scepticisme par le sens commun, tant dans le champ de connaissance que dans celui de la morale.
De son côté, Hume avait bien connaissance des critiques de l’Inquiry into the Human Mind dirigées à son encontre : Reid lui avait envoyé des extraits de son ouvrage en rédaction et un résumé rédigé spécialement pour lui, en1762-63[7]. Mais Reid avait, à cette occasion, demandé à Hume une réponse plus complète lorsque sont livre paraîtrait[8]. Or, sa requête ne fut jamais exhaussée, et Hume se borna à déclarer rétrospectivement, et en accusant Reid de mauvaise foi, que l’Enquête avait répondu aux critiques de l’Inquiry avant même que cette dernière ne fût écrite. Dès lors, son absence de réponse, sinon à travers la lettre à Strahan d’octobre 1775 et l’« Avertissement » qui y est joint, est elle aussi polémique en tant qu’elle néglige l’importance des critiques reidiennes en estimant qu’elles ne touchent pas le fond de sa doctrine et qu’il n’y avait donc pas matière à débattre.
Ainsi, pour des auteurs parfaitement contemporains, dont il est avéré que chacun connaît les œuvres de l’autre, c’est l’absence même de débat qui est polémique, et c’est précisément ce qui est passé sous silence qui est la matière de la controverse. Ce bien ce qui caractérise les rapports de Reid et Hume :
– Reid entre en débat avec un texte de jeunesse en ignorant les oeuvres de maturité de Hume, alors même qu’il en connaît l’existence et le contenu ;
– Hume ne répond pas à son assaillant alors même qu’il en connaît les objections de première main, mais se borne, à la fin de sa vie et alors qu’il se sait condamné, à accuser son critique de mauvaise foi.
Dès lors, en prenant au sérieux l’« Avertissement » de 1775 aux deux Enquêtes, nous voudrions arguer l’objet de la controverse silencieuse entre les deux auteurs est la question de l’accord ou non du scepticisme et du sens commun – Hume arguant de leur compossibilité dans un « scepticisme mitigé » et Reid instituant le sens commun en preuve de la fausseté du scepticisme. L’objet de ce débat n’ayant pas eu lieu et qu’il conviendrait de reconstituer serait celui de la définition de la portée du sens commun : Hume en fait un juge compétent en matière d’observation et d’expérience mais métaphysiquement neutre ; Reid en fait une instance de décisions métaphysiques. L’objet de cette controverse est épistémologique et ontologique, et notre méthode d’étude consiste à confronter les textes Humien et Reidien en en éclairant l’implicite par la connaissance du contexte que fournissent en particulier la correspondance de Hume et les textes posthumes de Reid.


  • Johan Olsthoorn (Leuven), The Problem of Spurious Replies in Hobbes’s Exchanges with Bishop Bramhall

This paper addresses a problem of interpretation pertinent to polemical exchanges: What interpretive status should we assign to claims that are: 1) made by a philosopher at the instigation of his/her adversary and 2) dissimilar from relevant utterances in the philosopher’s nonpolemical writings? The worry is that such claims are only accepted for argument’s sake, and do not express any genuine philosophical commitments. Call this the problem of possibly spurious replies. This paper studies this problem by analyzing three striking responses of Hobbes to objections raised by Bishop Bramhall. The domain to which this paper refers is moral philosophy.
The aims of this paper are two. First, I argue that for historically-minded scholars the problem of possibly spurious replies is a real one (at least in the case of Hobbes). Special justification is required when one decides to invoke textual evidence from philosophical controversies to reconstruct a philosopher’s thought. Second, I offer some general guidelines for dealing with this problem. I outline seven conditions, each of which provides evidence, if met, for or against the sincerity of the claim in question.
Hobbes’s exchanges with Bishop Bramhall[9] constitute an excellent case study for analyzing this problem, because of Hobbes’s penchant for creatively reworking Bramhall’s objections to his own advantage. Some of his replies come across as ad hoc, and are based on ideas or terminology of Bramhall which Hobbes does not employ in other, non-polemical writings. How we should deal with such responses? Under which conditions are we allowed to consider them as genuine expressions of Hobbes’s philosophical commitments?
Each possibly spurious reply requires individual analysis and judgment, based on common sense. Still, some general guidelines can be given. I argue that a response should be considered pro tanto spurious when any of the following is true:
1) The response, or its premises, contradicts claims defended elsewhere (written around the same time);
2) Subsequent paragraphs downplay the claim or seriously undermine its force (a common fate in Hobbes’s hands);
3) The claim is phrased in terminology not employed anywhere else (in this sense);
4) The philosopher elsewhere struggles with a philosophical problem that is (easily) solvable by invoking the possibly spurious reply, yet the claim is not invoked there
By contrast, the following conditions, if met, constitute evidence for the sincerity of the response:
5) 1-4 do not apply;
6) The response explicitly builds on, or assumes the truth of, claims defended elsewhere;
7) A plausible explanation can be given for why the response is without parallel.
The examples discussed are not drawn from the main topic of the Hobbes-Bramhall debate: the problem of free will (see Pink 2003; Jackson 2007; Russell 2011). This topic is not discussed at great length in Hobbes’s non-polemical writings. For the purpose of this paper, it is more appropriate to focus on issues about which Hobbes did write extensively elsewhere (e.g. justice and the nature of the good). This provides us with plenty of material to contrast Hobbes’s responses to Bramhall with.
The first example is drawn from Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity and Chance (1656). It concerns the distinction, proposed by Bishop Bramhall, between moral and natural goodness (EW: 5, 170-2). In response, Hobbes presses for value-relativism: P is naturally good to some agent Q if it pleases Q (EW: 5, 193). This doctrine is defended at length elsewhere (e.g. EL: 7.3; L: 6.7; DH: 12.4). Without parallel is the subsequent and possibly spurious claim that P is morally good if it is “conformable with the law”. If this endorsement of the notion of ‘moral good’ (honestum) is genuine, then many an interpretation of Hobbes’s moral philosophy requires revision (e.g. Irwin 2009, ch. 34-35).
The second example comes from Hobbes’s 1668 reply to the Castigations of Bishop Bramhall (EW: 4, 281-384). In both De Cive and Leviathan Hobbes had claimed that rebels should be punished not as subjects, but as enemies to the commonwealth (DCv: 14.22; L: 28.23). Bramhall retorts that rebels are still subjects de iure, if not de facto. Hobbes replies: “it is granted. But…” (EW: 4, 291). Close reading shows that his subsequent explanation does not engage Bramhall’s point. This raises the question whether Hobbes-scholars are allowed to draw on the distinction between de iure and de facto subjection, nominally accepted here, and here alone, to solve interpretive difficulties (e.g. concerning the juridical status of rebels). I answer in the negative. Given the philosophical benefits it could bring, Hobbes’s failure to elaborate on the distinction suggests he did not take it very seriously.
The third example concerns a remarkable argument for Hobbes’s doctrine that no civil law can be unjust (EW: 5, 177-8). It relies on a distinction between the making of a law (which can be unjust) and the law itself (which cannot). The doctrine has no counterpart elsewhere, and is put forth with unusual caution: “I fear the Bishop will think this discourse too subtile” (EW: 5, 178). I argue that the distinction can nonetheless be considered genuine for three reasons. First, it does not contradict positions expressed elsewhere: from the perspective of the citizen, the law is still just. Second, it builds on claims defended elsewhere (concerning the nature of justice). Third, it provides an explanation for a problem Hobbes was, withreason, wary to draw attention to.

  • Richard Glauser (Neuchatel), Volition and Last Judgment in Locke and van Limborch

In the paper I propose for the 2013 ESEMP Conference I would like to focus on certain important questions that arise in the debate on free will between Locke and his friend, the Dutch Remonstrant theologian Philippus van Limborch.
Their debate on free will took place by way of correspondence between March 1701 and October 1702, that is, between the publication of the fourth and the fifth editions of Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Important traces of the debate are found in the modifications Locke was to prepare for the fifth edition, which was published posthumously in 1706, two years after Locke’s death. Up to the fourth edition of the Essay Locke strongly denied free will (Book II, chapter 21), accepting only freedom of action and thinking. Van Limborch, who was just as strong an advocate of free will, claimed against Locke that if there is no free will, then there cannot even be freedom of action.
During their exchange one of the central issues was the nature and function of a “last judgment”, that is, the practical judgment one makes immediately before acting, whether or not the judgment is the outcome of rational deliberation. For Locke, the content of such a judgment is “this [type of action] is better for here and now”. I wish to discuss three related questions relating to a last judgment.
(1) Van Limborch has a rather complicated theory of a last judgment. For, as he says, it can either be performed by the intellect alone, in which case it is an act of the understanding, or it is a complex act comprising both an act of the understanding and an act of the will (a volition). Sometimes, he says, it reduces entirely to a mere volition. Thus, van Limborch distinguishes three different types of last judgment: (i) an act of the understanding, (ii) a complex act comprising an act of the understanding and a volition, or (iii) a mere volition. As far as I know, an overall interpretation of van Limborch’s notion of a last judgment has not yet been proposed. So, my first aim is to produce one, and to compare it with Locke’s conception of a last judgment, which is not made explicit in the Essay, but in his
(2) Van Limborch holds that such a judgment, whenever it is merely an act of the understanding, never determines one to will to perform a certain action; one is always free to will to act either in conformity with one’s last judgement, or contrary to it. In his correspondence Locke holds that a last judgment always determines one to will to act according to it; one is not free to will to act contrary to it. So, my second aim is to examine the reasons for Locke’s and van Limborch’s contrary conclusions.
(3) As mentioned above, Locke believes that one’s last judgment always determines a volition to perform a certain action. He also holds the converse: every volition is determined by a last judgment. However, he holds furthermore – both in the Essay (II 21) and in his correspondence - that a volition is always determined by an uneasiness (which is not a cognitive, but a conative mental state). Thus, a problem of consistency arises: according to Locke, are volitions determined by an uneasiness or by a last judgment? My third goal is to show that he can coherently claim both. Yet, Locke never explains how a volition can be determined both by a last judgment and by an uneasiness. I intend to propose an interpretation that makes good sense of both determinations. The interpretation proposed reinforces Locke’s arguments against freedom to will.
In the autumn of 1702, Locke writes to van Limborch that he is prepared to accept the thesis that there is, after all, freedom to will or not to will. However, the explanation of this  apparent last-minute concession, and its possible impact on the fifth edition, lies beyond the scope of this paper.
The methodical approach made use of is the analysis of concepts and arguments, in order to understand the justification for the positions on either side of the debate. Understanding the reasons for the disagreement between Locke and van Limborch over the
nature and function of a last judgment is an essential step towards understanding their conflicting tenets regarding the metaphysical and psychological questions of free will, at least prior to Locke’s apparent change of mind in 1702.


  • Domenico Collacciani (Paris), Les traités de la lumière entre Descartes et Huygens, Vossius, de Bruyn et Petit

En 1662 l’érudit Isaac Vossius, connu par ses contemporains en tant que bibliothécaire de la reine Christine et éditeur de textes classiques, intervint dans le débat savant sur la nature de la lumière avec son De luce natura et proprietate. Niant la plupart des thèses que Descartes avait soutenues dans la Dioptrique, l’ouvrage attaque les principes de la science cartésienne. Il vise à esquisser une optique tout à fait opposée à celle du philosophe, en affirmant l’immatérialité du feu et de la lumière, la solidité du soleil, la réduction de la réfraction à la réflexion et l’origine des couleurs par le soufre.
Quoique anti-cartésiennes, ces thèses n’étaient pas soutenues par les aristotéliciens ; d’ailleurs, dans son Responsum ad objecta de Bruyn et Petiti (1664), Vossius lui-même remarque qu’il n’a satisfait ni l’une ni l’autre des deux factions. La longue Exercitatio épistolaire que Pierre Petit avait d’abord adressée à Vossius et ensuite publiée sous le titre De ignis et lucis natura (1663) relève les incohérences de l’« immatérialisme » vossien au sujet des phénomènes concernant le feu et lui oppose l’opinion traditionnelle, répandue d’Aristote à Froimond, selon laquelle le feu est une vraie substance matérielle, qui est en puissance dans le combustible et dont les accidents sont la chaleur et la lumière. D’après le médecin, la philosophie naturelle de Vossius est donc fautive, bien qu’elle lui paraisse louable pour l’intention de s’opposer aux hypotheses et somnia des nouveaux philosophes.
Toujours en 1663 le parti de ceux-ci fut pris par le géomètre néerlandais de Bruyn. La stratégie de son Epistola ad Vossium (1663) consiste à résumer la philosophie cartésienne de la lumière en puisant dans l’œuvre entière du philosophe, notamment dans les Principia et dans les Météores. Une vision d’ensemble du corpus cartésien c’est bien ce qu’il aurait fallu à Vossius pour ne pas se méprendre à l’égard des suppositions et des exemples dont Descartes ne s’était servi qu’afin de s’approcher de la vérité scientifique. Un an avant la parution du Monde, de Bruyn renonce à la prétention de rendre compte de façon définitive de l’arrangement de la matière : se réclamant de Principia III, 46, il déclare que l’optique doit se fonder sur la seule recta ratio et sur l’accord des expériences avec celle-ci.
La littérature critique s’est plusieurs fois arrêtée sur le débat autour de la lumière au XVIIe siècle en tant que sujet majeur de l’histoire des sciences, mais elle n’a pas cru devoir faire place à Vossius et à ses objecteurs en raison de leur mince postérité. S’il est vrai, d’un côté, qu’aucune des thèses du De lucis a survécu à son auteur, il faudrait vérifier, de l’autre, l’importance théorique et historique des réflexions épistémologiques auxquelles elles ont donné lieu. À cet effet on pourrait voir, par exemple, dans quelle mesure la théorie ondulatoire de Huygens a su profiter des remarques et même des paradoxes contenus dans notre querelle. La correspondance du savant néerlandais témoigne en effet qu’il en a suivi les étapes et connu les enjeux, tout en demeurant critique à l’égard des solutions de Vossius et de ses adversaires.
Nous proposons donc de considérer les propositions scientifiques de Vossius sous l’angle d’une complexe stratégie polémique d’inspiration sceptique visant à mettre au jour les faiblesses de toute école qui se veut fidèle à une autorité. La critique adressée à Descartes, y comprise l’accusation de plagiat de la loi de réfraction de Snell, se révèle un défi lancé contre l’adhésion aveugle des cartésiens aux principes du maître. L’auteur leur montre qu’il est possible en principe d’expliquer les phénomènes lumineux par des principes autres que ceux de Descartes ou d’Aristote : il leur tend un piège, pour ainsi dire, les obligeant à refuser une doctrine qui ne se fonde que sur les expériences. En effet Vossius brise la continuité entre expérience sensible et raisonnement, qui est essentielle à toute science physique, et essaye de n’énoncer que des explications qui découlent directement des sens. Cette méthode, qui devrait être capable de prévoir les phénomènes, rend bien compte des thèses singulière du De lucis : comme la chaleur naît du frottement des solides, le soleil est solide, la lumière n’est pas un corps parce que sa diffusion est instantanée. Sous couvert d’une discussion au sujet de quelques thèses physiques Vossius appelle les deux objecteurs à une dispute privée (mais dont le dossier complet à été récemment publié) concernant les principes mêmes de la philosophie de la nature ancienne et moderne. Pierre Petit reconnaît très clairement la teneur antiscientifique de la pseudoscience de Vossius lorsqu’il lui reproche qu’il pourrait tenir pour un savant un marin en raison de son expérience ou lorsqu’il affirme qu’il ne faut pas toucher le soleil afin d’en connaître la nature. Mais l’aristotélicien rencontre des difficultés à rendre compte de la puissance explicative de la géométrie (la règle du sinus dans la réfraction) dans les phénomènes sublunaires qui concernent l’optique.
De l’autre coté le parti cartésien se trouve à faire face à une objection qui entraîne la résolution d’une ambiguïté foncière de la Dioptrique : Vossius avait remarqué que si on affirme que la lumière est matérielle, ce qui est essentiel afin d’y appliquer les lois de la mécanique, on tombe dans maintes contradictions quand on en explique la nature par des exemples (le bâton, la cuve, etc.). La réponse de de Bruyn pousse la méthode cartésienne vers une interprétation plus formelle selon laquelle la science jouit d’une libertas fingendi presque absolue, dont les limites sont fixées par la seule mathématique ; pour comprendre la nature de la lumière il suffit alors de supposer que celle-ci soit un transport de mouvement, et non pas de matière.
Au croisement des trois traditions sceptique, scolastique et cartésienne nous nous interrogerons sur le rôle paradigmatique de la lumière dans la réponse que l’âge classique a donnée à la question qu’est-ce que c’est qu’un ens physicum? Réfléchissant sur cet objet dont la matière paraît insaisissable, nos auteurs ont contribué certainement à ouvrir la voie à la grande systématisation de Huygens chez lequel le géomètre trace des droites imaginaires sur les ondes matérielles réelles étudiées par le physicien.

  • Andrea Strazzoni (Pisa), A logic to end controversies: Clauberg’s logica vetus et nova as means to settle the disputes on Cartesian Philosophy

It is well known that the dissemination of Cartesian ideas caused acrimonious debates. Among them, the most important were those arisen by the introduction of Cartesian philosophy in the Academy, as new philosophy directly challenged the primacy of the Scholastic paradigm.
The context to be considered is that of Dutch universities in the middle years of Seventeenth Century, where Cartesian philosophy was officially taught for the first time. Three stages can be acknowledged in such debates: the Utrecht crisis (1641-1643), the Descartes-Regius break up (1646-1648), and the Leiden crisis (1647-1648). These controversies have been amply dealt with in secondary literature, as in C. Louise Thijssen-Schoute’s Nederlands Cartesianisme (1954) and Theo Verbeek’s Descartes and the Dutch (1992). A fourth controversy, however, is still lacking an adequate coverage: engaged by Johannes Clauberg against Jacob Revius and Cyriacus Lentulus, it had its main moment in the publication of Clauberg’s Defensio Cartesiana (1652). The book, indeed, was a confutation of four treatises: Revius’s Methodi Cartesianae consideratio theologica (1648), Abstersio macularum (1648), Statera philosophiae cartesianae (1650), and Lentulus’s Nova Renati Descartes sapientia (1651). The aim of this paper is to outline the function of Clauberg’s Logica vetus et nova (1654, 16582), arguing that it was aimed to provide hermeneutic rules in order to end this and similar disputes. Logica had to answer to the problems concerning the right interpretation of texts, as Descartes’s Discours and Meditationes, which were at debate in this controversy. Therefore, to take Logica into consideration can highlight the actual character of the debate, as Clauberg recognized its deepest cause in the lack of interpretative criteria for philosophical texts.
The Clauberg controversy is in some respects different from the previous debates on Cartesian philosophy, although it is historically related to these. The first one is the Regius-Descartes polemic. After having supported him during some disputations on physiology held in 1641, Descartes broke up with Regius after the publication of Fundamenta physices (1646), to which a series of mutual replies followed: the preface to the French translation of Principia philosophiae (1647), Regius’s Explicatio mentis humanae (1647), and Descartes’s Notae in programma (1648). It is with the publication of Notae that the Clauberg controversy arose: Revius’s Consideratio was an answer to their anonymous preface, seemingly written by Adriaan Heereboord. Revius and Heereboord, in fact, were the protagonists of the second controversy to be mentioned, namely, the Leiden crisis, in which Revius upheld Aristotelian positions along with Jacob Triglandius. Descartes, in turn, was publicly defended by Heereboord, as stated in a letter to the Curators of Leiden University published in his Meletemata philosophica, to which Revius replied with his Statera. Clauberg, therefore, was directly involved in the earliest debates on Cartesianism. This controversy, moreover, continued with the publication of Lentulus’s Cartesius triumphatus (1653) and Revius’s Thekel hoc est levitas Defensionis cartesianae (1653), as well as with interventions of Tobias Andreae and Christopher Wittich.
The analysis of these texts is far beyond the scope of the present paper. I will thus focus on a narrower point, that is, on the role of Logica vetus et nova as a mean to settle philosophical controversies. I shall consider, following a comparative approach, the distinctive point of the fourth dispute. In fact, Utrecht and Leiden crisis led philosophers to reconcile old and new paradigms, in order to soften the introduction of Cartesianism. Another strategy for preventing further conflicts was to detach philosophy from medicine and theology. Such strategies were adopted by Heereboord and Johannes De Raey. On the other hand, Clauberg controversy had its outcome in a logic embodying a Cartesian hermeneutics, finalized to avoid misinterpretations of Descartes’s philosophy. A strategy not different from Lodewijk Meijer’s, who in Philosophia S. Scripturae interpres (1666) developed a Cartesian hermeneutics aimed to end the disputes on Biblical interpretation.
In order to support my thesis I will consider first Defensio cartesiana. Being an answer to Revius’s Consideratio (a critique of Discours and Meditationes) Defensio is a commentary of Descartes’s and Revius’s texts, along with Lentulus’s. It is an eristic treatise, firstly devoted to the confutation of the opponents: however, it also serves to introduce the reader to Cartesian logic and metaphysics. In Defensio are present, indeed, some points later developed in Logica and in Clauberg’s main treatise on metaphysics, Exercitationes de cognitione Dei et nostri (1656). Defensio can be thus regarded as a crossroad in the development of his thought. Descartes’s method has implications both in the development of a logic conceived as the art of thinking and in the formulation of a metaphysical theory based on the four rules. According to Clauberg, however, logic and metaphysics have to be taken separately. Their separation, leading to the development of a logic devised as a hermeneutics, is to be traced back to the controversy with Revius and Lentulus. Indeed, the peculiar character of Logica is its being meant to solve controversies, whereas other “Cartesian logics” – like Arnauld’s – did not embody hermeneutics as they were developed in less polemical contexts. Logica, actually, expounds the rules of interpretation of speech established in the light of evidence as truth criterion. Starting with Genetica, a survey of the ways to acquaint clear and distinct notions and to express them in speech, it concludes in Analytica, devoted to the acknowledgment of the meaning of sentences and to the verification of their truth. Clauberg’s logic maintains, indeed, the purpose of guiding intellect in the discovery of truth. As it is about interpretation, moreover, it borrows some aids from philological arts: lexica, grammar and rhetoric.
Ultimately, Logica embodies the rules developed from the textual commentaries carried on in Defensio, or the guidelines for a Cartesian interpretation of the very texts of Descartes and of his opponents. In order to support my thesis I will provide textual evidences rooted from a compariso of Logica with Defensio. This will make possible to discern whether the problems at debate in Defensio could find a solution in the canons established in Logica, which can be thus interpreted as a reply to Revius and Lentulus. In doing this, I will focus on the controversy from a special point of view, that is, from a meta-consideration on the dispute itself, provided by one of his protagonists.


  • Leopold Hess (Varsaw), The notion of nature in Leibniz’s polemics with his contemporaries

In some of his most important polemics with his contemporaries, Leibniz employed an argumentative strategy in which the notion of nature played a central role. In the first part of my paper, I will analyze two most conspicuous examples of the application of this strategy, and indicate some of its epistemological assumptions. In the second part, I will discuss some of its meta-philosophical consequences, putting it in a more general context of Leibniz’s critical appraisal of central tendencies of the philosophy of his time.
Although my analysis will focus mostly on one Leibnizs side of the controversies in question (and so I will rather consider his interpretation of his opponents views than those views themselves), in the end it should allow me, on the assumption that Leibnizs interpretations are at least partially correct, to make some more general observations on the dialectic of philosophical development in the respective areas at the turn of the 18th century.
1a. Two examples
The two instances of Leibniz’s application of the notion of nature on which I will focus concern the issue of the immateriality of the soul and the occasionalist view of causation and natural laws. In the first case, Leibniz criticizes Locke’s view that the existence of an immaterial soul cannot be demonstrated because it is not impossible that God gave the power to think to a material substance. Leibniz argues that if matter had been endowed with the power to think, this fact could not be rationally explained; it would be a sheer miracle. In this way, by resorting to miracles and “what God can do”, anything could be explained – without actually providing a reasonable explanation. A true explanation, on the contrary, must agree with the “order of nature” and restrain from postulating miracles or facts that are beyond the grasp of human reason. Thinking should be considered a natural property of an immaterial substance (whereas for Locke, in Leibniz’s view, it would be a miraculous property, whether the substance was material or not).
Leibniz’s argument against the occasionalist view of causation and natural laws rests on similar premises. The occasionalists introduce “perpetual miracle” into nature, because they explain the operations of natural laws through God’s intervention (however regular it may be) instead of the natural powers of created things. Thus they make causation an occultphenomenon and present laws of nature as mere abstract regularities. In response to this, Leibniz insists that it is essential to provide a metaphysical basis for the operation of natural laws; in his own words that they should be grounded in the “natures of things”.
In both cases, Leibniz argues that a proper explanation of the facts in question (human capacity to think; law-like regularity of natural phenomena) must meet two conditions: a) rational intelligibility – it cannot resort to God’s power or any other “bare facts” as the ultimate explanation, but indicate sufficient reasons for the explanandum, in a way that makes it possible for human reason to comprehend them; b) metaphysical basis the explanation must show how the explanandum is grounded in some basic metaphysical reality. Both conditions are comprised in the notion of nature as it is employed in this context.
1b. The epistemology behind the argument
The application of this argumentative strategy and the notion of nature that it involves reveal some fundamental epistemological assumptions of Leibniz’s (natural) philosophy. Two of them are most important: a) we can have real knowledge of concrete substances, and not just abstract qualities (from which the existence of substances could be, at best, inferred); b) a proper explanation of any fact or phenomenon must indicate the metaphysical basis of the explanandum. In effect, epistemology and natural philosophy are closely tied to and dependent on metaphysics.
2. The indispensability of metaphysics
The view of the relation of metaphysics and epistemology/natural philosophy that is involved in Leibniz’s use of the notion of nature and the explanatory force he ascribes to it is of central importance to his opposition to one of the main tendencies in the philosophy of his time. This tendency, which is most explicit in Locke, but is also discernible in proponents of occasionalism, consists in divorcing natural philosophy and epistemology from metaphysics.
In consequence, questions regarding the proper way of explaining nature and the justification of knowledge (as well as other normative issues, such as questions of morality and theology) are supposed to be answerable without resort to any substantial metaphysical considerations. Leibniz is highly critical of this tendency, because in his view it threatens to leave the edifice of knowledge without a proper foundation. He insists, therefore, that epistemology and metaphysics, methodological and substantial questions should be kept together. In this context, his critical notion of nature, together with its epistemological corollaries (as described in part 1a.), can be seen as providing a meta-philosophical principle or standard.

  • Angela Ferraro (Nantes/Rome), Le « raisonneur » et l’« anatomiste » : la dispute Lémery-Winslow sur la génération des monstres (1724-1743)

L’article Monstre de l’Encyclopédie (1765) est en grande partie consacré à « une longue dispute entre deux hommes célèbres, qui à la manière dont on combattait, n’aurait jamais été terminée sans la mort d’un des combattants ». Les deux personnages en question étaient Louis Lémery, médecin, et Jacques-Bénigne Winslow, anatomiste, qui, durant vingt ans environ, avaient polémiqué autour de l’origine des monstres. Ils étaient tous les deux savants et partisans de la préexistence, mais, au sujet de la tératogenèse, leur opposition était aussi forte que possible au niveau théorique aussi bien que rhétorique : Lémery attribuait la naissance des monstres à l’écrasement fortuit de deux germes, tandis que Winslow n’y voyait que l’effet de la conformation originairement monstrueuse d’un seul germe ; l’un rendait compte de ces désordres en vertu de la puissance explicative de son système général, l’autre étayait sa thèse sur une pluralité d’observations anatomiques. Leur combat dans le théâtre de l’Académie des Sciences, qui n’avait pas manqué de mobiliser les contemporains, dont Bernard de Fontenelle et Jean-Jacques Dortous de Mairan, devint bientôt paradigmatique, comme en témoignent le compte rendu de Maupertuis dans la Vénus physique (1744), d’où est tiré le résumé de l’Encyclopédie cité ci-dessus, ainsi que les remarques sur la génération des monstres dans l’Essai sur la formations des corps organisés (1765) de Charles Bonnet.
La littérature critique a à son tour reconnu l’importance de cette dispute dont les Mémoires de l’Académie gardent les documents : il suffit de rappeler la place qui lui accordent Jacques Roger et Patrick Tort dans leur travaux respectifs sur les sciences de la vie et sur la tératologie à l’âge classique. Cependant elle n’a jamais fait l’objet d’une contribution spécifique. De plus, quand on l’a envisagée sous la forme du combat, les positions de Lémery et de Winslow ont été présentées assez schématiquement ; en revanche, là où la pensée des deux auteurs a été exposée de façon plus détaillée, on a sacrifié ou perdu la dimension polémique qui en a marqué l’expression. Nous proposons donc d’examiner les mémoires que Lémery et Winslow ont rédigés entre 1724 et 1743, en mettant en valeur la structure de la dispute dans laquelle ils s’étaient engagés. Cela permettra non seulement de mieux apprécier l’évolution progressive de leurs opinions et de leurs attitudes, mais aussi de la reconnaître en tant que résultat d’une interaction réciproque développée selon le modèle objection-réponse. Nous comptons adopter une démarche diachronique et traverser les textes suivant le fil conducteur d’un certain nombre de thèmes, qu’on prévoit ranger en trois catégories : celles de l’avancement du savoir scientifique, du changement des stratégies argumentatives et des admissions ou ouvertures.
Concernant le premier regroupement, signalons, à titre d’exemple, les modifications successives que la définition du monstre subit au cours de la polémique. Dans son mémoire de 1724 Lémery avait distingué les monstres entre simples et composés, c’est-à-dire entre ceux qui ne sont liés que par les parties extérieures et ceux dont la jonction arrive jusqu’aux organes internes : dans les deux cas, il jugeait tout à fait inutile d’avoir recours à l’hypothèse des germes originairement monstrueux. En 1733 Winslow lui opposa une classification ultérieure en monstres simples, composés et dotés de petites parties surnuméraires, qui renouvelait la nomenclature traditionnelle, désormais aperçue comme obsolète. Son examen des différentes structures anatomiques visait à prouver l’impossibilité d’expliquer la formation des monstres par la seule théorie des accidents ; celle-ci lui paraît d’ailleurs manquer de preuves suffisantes, vu qu’on n’en avait pas éclairci les mécanismes ni montré toutes les traces prétendues. En 1738, dans le but de justifier ce dernier défaut, Lémery élargit le concept du monstrueux, en rapprochant les monstres proprement dits des hybrides issus de l’accouplement de végétaux et d’animaux d’espèces différentes, qui lui semblaient fournir des évidences majeures à l’appui de sa thèse. Enfin, en 1740 il essaya également de remédier au premier manque, en comparant la formation des monstres à la genèse des maladies, qui avait l’avantage d’être plus aisée à saisir : à son avis, les monstres pouvaient donc être considérés comme autant de « grands malades », où des structures organiques fort blessées compromettent les fonctions qui y sont naturellement attachées.
Au niveau des stratégies argumentatives, une des variations les plus significatives est celle qu’on relève dans le glissement progressif de la polémique du domaine de la science à celui de la métaphysique et de la théologie. Dans son mémoire de 1724, Lémery n’avait fait qu’une petite référence à l’attaque que la doctrine des germes monstrueux lui semblait impliquer contre l’ordre, la simplicité et l’uniformité de la nature. Winslow ne répondit pas à la provocation : en 1733 il préféra de ne pas franchir la limite du discours anatomique. C’est sans doute pour faire face à l’habilité technique de son interlocuteur que Lémery utilisa ensuite toutes ses armes philosophiques. De 1738 à 1740 il fit constamment appel aux lois générales que l’Auteur de la nature avait suivies dans la génération des vivants et qui l’avaient empêché de créer des germes monstrueux à côté des germes normaux. De 1740 à 1743 Winslow descendit lui-aussi sur le même terrain, en complétant ses observations anatomiques par la constatation que sa doctrine ne faisait que rendre hommage à la toute-puissance et à la liberté divines. La seconde moitié de la polémique faisait donc revivre l’opposition radicale entre la perspective de Nicolas Malebranche (Traité de la nature et de la grâce, 1680), d’un coté, et les points de vue d’Antoine Arnauld (Réflexions philosophiques et théologiques, 1685) et de Pierre-Sylvain Régis (Système de philosophie, 1691), de l’autre. Nous essayerons de mettre ultérieurement au jour tant l’orientation malebranchiste de Lémery que les opinions que Winslow partageait avec Régis.
On se demandera enfin si, dans un combat si serré, on pouvait jamais accorder quelque chose à son adversaire. La réponse est positive, au moins dans une certaine mesure. En 1738 Lémery admit que la dynamique de l’écrasement des germes lui était partiellement inconnue et en 1740 Winslow reconnut que la théorie des monstres par accident pouvait être parfois acceptée. Mais il y eut également un autre genre d’ouverture de la part des deux savants : l’indécidabilité de la question qui avait fait l’objet de leur dispute les poussa en conclusion à constater l’insuffisance du préformisme, dont la crise allait bientôt faire place aux hypothèses épigénétiques. C’est par cela aussi que nous espérons pouvoir montrer comme, dans le cadre de cette polémique du XVIIIe siècle, les monstres furent bien, comme le disait Georges Canguilhem, « un instrument de la science ».



General Topic Description
From our point of view, as well as that of the age itself, a great part of the controversies of the early modern period could be ascribed to the metaphysical domain. This is the case with many debates that we label as belonging to the area of ‘philosophy of mind’, or of the philosophy of nature. As is well-known, leaving aside some more technical (mathematical or experimental) discussions, the major debates concerning the general framework for the ‘new science’ until eighteenth-century were framed in metaphysical, if not theological terms. Through these discussions alone, a methodical distinction between the fields of metaphysics and the different scientific fields has been painstakingly established. In this section we have chosen, at least to some extent, to leave out some debates that – although actually ‘metaphysical’ - are dealt with in other sections of this conference, and we thus restrict ourselves to topics belonging to metaphysics in our more restricted sense.
In the early modern period, metaphysics itself was in search of a new disciplinary and methodological definition, moving from its first reshaping as a systematic discipline within the Scholastic learning, to its ambivalent Cartesian foundation, either as the science of the ‘first things to be known’ or the science of immaterial beings, laid down at the roots of the ‘tree’ of human knowledge. From the mixing of these different models, passing through the major post-Cartesian ‘systems’, the new academic framework of a ‘general metaphysics’ and a ‘special’ one surfaced, the latter focusing on the objects of theology, psychology and cosmology. Meanwhile, however, radical criticisms levelled against metaphysical assumptions paved the way for the final detachment of empirical sciences from their anchoring in the metaphysical framework.
Metaphysical controversies are all the more interesting in such an age of complex paradigm changes. Thus, when different approaches meet in discussion, the last philosophical assumptions of one stance are likely to reveal at best.
This is the case in many of the great controversies of the age: among many of them, we have chosen to focus on the More/Descartes debate, where an essentially sympathetic attitude by More concerning Descartes’ new philosophy leaves room for basic disagreements about topics which are seminal to later cosmological and psychological developments, such as: infinity, the nature of matter and its relationship to senses, the soul of animals.
Another example is the series of controversies around the topic of ‘middle knowledge’. This topic has been chosen for a series of different reasons: first of all, it is one of the few cases where Scholastics and ‘new philosophers’ share the same field and the same conceptual framework and language, hence it is a privileged field to follow the interactions between different intellectual traditions, and the related phenomena of continuity/discontinuity; secondly, while being a sophisticated metaphysical topic - having also relevant echoes in present-day metaphysics and being interwoven with the interdisciplinary issue of free will - it was also, in terms of the last aspect, deeply rooted in the wider theological and ideological debates of the age.

Topic I: A Case Study for the Early Modern Clash of Metaphysical Paradigms: Themes from the Descartes/More Discussion (1648-1649)

  • Igor Agostini (Lecce), The discussion on the infinity of the world in the More-Descartes correspondence

I will address in this paper the discussion on the infinity of the world in the correspondence (1648-1649) between the English philosopher Henry More (1614-1687) and René Descartes (1596-1650).
In his Principia philosophiae (1644), Descartes stated that the world should be qualified as indefinite because we are not able to grasp any limit in his extension: «Nos autem illa omnia, in quibus sub aliqua consideratione nullum finem poterimus invenire, non quidem affirmabimus esse infinita, sed ut indefinita spectabimus» (I, art. 26, AT VIII-1 14-15; cf. also I, art. 21, AT VIII-1 52). In his first letter (More to Descartes, December 11,  1648), More objects to Descartes that not to grasp any limit is a mere subjective description. Indeed, it is a necessary condition that the world  is in itself (simpliciter) finite or infinite: «Indefinitam tuam mundi extensionem non intelligo. Extensio enim illa indefinita, vel simpliciter infinita est, vel tantum quoad nos» (AT V 242). After a first attempt to defend the Principia’s assumption (Descartes to More, February 5, 1649, AT V 274), under the pression of More’s objections (More to Descartes, March 5, 1649, AT V 304) Descartes finally acknowledges that to attribute any limit to the world is a contradictory claim: «Sed repugnat meo conceptui ut mundo aliquem terminum tribuam, nec aliam habeo mensuram eorum quæ affirmare debeo vel negare, quam propriam perceptionem» (Descartes to More, April 15, 1649, AT V 344).
The aim of my work is to demonstrate that Descartes’ conclusion in his letter of April 15, 1649, endorses the infinity of the world (from a quantitative point of view). Though other interpreters have already stated such a conclusion, I will try to support it by reading the discussion on the infinity of the world in the light of the discussion on the void and of the atoms and, as a consequence, of Descartes’ formulation, in his correspondence with More, of the theory of the creation of the eternal truths.
The analysis of the correspondence shows that the solution to the question of the infinity of the world (as well as the other topics debated by More and Descartes) is strictly connected with the question of the definition of matter by extension opening the discussion. In spite of the identity by Descartes between extension and matter, More claims that immaterial substances are extended, too.
The discussion on the definition of matter is a decisive step in the debate showing that the controversy between More and Descartes is a substantial one. In spite of More’s claim that the thesis of the extension of spiritual substances is compatible with Descartes’s thought and that it does not touch the “fundamenta” of Cartesian philosophy, the analysis of the different steps of the debate shows that More’s and Descartes’s basic philosophical assumptions are incompatible.

  • Sarah Hutton (Aberystwith), Matters of Substance: Body in the Correspondence of Henry More and Descartes

It is a truism of Henry More scholarship that the issues which he raises in his correspondence with Descartes contains the seeds of his mature philosophy. It is here, for instance, that he first airs some of his most characteristic doctrines – such as his conception of spiritual extension which anticipates his mature conception of infinite Space. Also linked to his conception of spiritual extension is his causal hypothesis of active spirit within nature, to which he refers later as the ‘Hylarchic principle’ or ‘Spirit of Nature’. These ideas are fleshed out subsequently his Of the Immortality of the Soul, 1655) which target Hobbes’ materialism.  Understandably More’s attempts to persuade Descartes that spirit or soul is extended as matter, have formed the focus of most discussions of More’s correspondence with Descartes. There has been less attention to his conception of material substance, despite the fact that his theory of causal spirit was predicated on a Cartesian conception of body as material extension. My paper will, therefore, focus on More’s conception of body as set out in his letters to Descartes and his later, apologetic ‘Epistola ad VC’, in order to explain his estimation of Descartes as ‘the profoundest Master of Mechanicks’, and ‘the incomparable Philosophy of Renatus Des-Cartes’ for its ‘th[o]rough insight into the nature and lawes of Matter’  (Of the Immortality of the Soul, 461, 346-7). I shall demonstrate his debt to Descartes’ conception of body and show that, despite his criticisms of aspects of Descartes’ natural philosophy, he continued to cross-reference their correspondence on this matter in later works, especially Of the Immortality of the Soul.
‘Rash fancies and false deductions from misunderstood Experiments have made some very confident that there is a Vacuum in Nature, and that every Body by how much more light it is, so much less substance it has in it self. A thing very fond and irrational, at the first sight, to such as are but indifferently well versed in the incomparable Philosophy of Renatus Des-Cartes, whose dexterous wit and through insight into the nature and lawes of Matter, has so perfected the reasons of those Phaenomena, that Democritus, Epicurus, Lucretius and others have puzzled themselves about, that there seems nothing now wanting as concerning that way of Philosophizing, but patience and an unprejudiced judgment to peruse what he has writ.’ Henry More, IS. pp. 346-6in CSPW
‘6. The Attraction of the Load-stone seems to have some affinity with these instances of Sympathy. This mystery Des-Cartes has explained with admirable artifice as to the immediate corporeal causes thereof, to wit, those wreathed particles which he makes to pass certain screw-pores in the Load-stone and Iron. But how the efformation of these particles is above the reach of the meer mechanical powers in Matter, as also the exquisite direction of their motion, whereby they make their peculiar Vortex he describes about the Earth from Pole to Pole, and thread an incrustated Star, passing in a right line in so long a journey as the Diameter thereof without being swung to the sides; how these things, I say, are beyond the powers of Matter, I have fully enough declared & proved in a large Letter of mine to V. C. and therefore that I may not actum agere, shall forbear speaking any farther thereof in this place. To which you may adde, that meer corporeal motion in Matter, without any other guide, would never so much as produce a round Sun or Star, of which figure notwithstanding Des-Cartes acknowledges them to be. But my reasons why it cannot be effected by the simple Mechanical powers of Matter, I have particularly set down in my Letters to that excellent Philosopher. IBID., pp. 457-8

Topic II: Middle Knowledge: A Common Field of Debate for Different Philosophical and Theological Traditions

  • Jean-Pascal Anfray (Paris), La science moyenne et les modalités : contrefactuels, mondes possibles et concepts individuels

Dans la seconde moitié du XXe siècle, les théoriciens de la sémantique des mondes possibles appliquée à l’analyse des modalités se sont réclamés de Leibniz comme de leur ancêtre. Ultérieurement, la redécouverte de la théorie modale de Duns Scot a conduit certains commentateurs à attribuer à ce dernier la paternité d’une conception du possible métaphysique qui, par la rupture avec le modèle diachronique des modalités que l’on retrouverait chez Aristote, serait à l’origine – lointaine – des théories contemporaines.
Mais de Duns Scot à Leibniz, les outils théoriques de la réflexion modale – mondes possibles, contrefactuels et concepts d’individus – sont considérablement enrichis à l’occasion des débats entrainés par l’introduction de la scientia media dans les disputes sur l’accord de la liberté humaine avec la prescience, la prédestination et la grâce divine. Ici, on s’efforcera d’analyser la portée de ces innovations et la façon dont elles émergent des querelles avec les adversaires thomistes de la science moyenne, mais surtout des débats internes à ses partisans jésuites, Molina, Suárez, Vázquez.

  • Francesco Piro (Salerno), Why should God know the truth on counterfactual conditionals? Keilah’s possible siege, the controversy on Middle Knowlege and the varieties of Anti-Molinism

In the course of the long controversy  on  Luis de Molina’s Middle Knowledge,  a particular difficulty for Anti-Molinists was that concerning how to explain, without recurring to Middle Knowledge, the biblical  passages in which God is represented as knowing precisely what free agents would have done in other circumstancies.  The typical example was that of Keilah’s inhabitants, who would have betrayed David if having the possibility of doing so: Samuel, I, 23: 10-13. The largest part of anti-Molinists  assumed that God has a general knowledge concerning such counterfactuals, even if they grounded it on God’s knowledge of His own “possible decrees” and not on Molina’s Middle Knowledge  (Zumel, Alvarez, Lemos, and others including Leibniz). But there were also  Dominicans (Cabrera, Ledesma, Navarrete) or other adversaries of the Molinism (the Jesuit Henriquez) who openly doubted that God must have a general knowledge of non-actual possibles, trying to give a local explanation to the biblical passages in which such knowledge is suggested. This difference of approachs  is interesting because it is a sign of how different the theological alternatives to Molinism could be and how much the question of the metaphysical nature of possibility, deeply involved in the whole controversy, divided them.

COLLOQUIUM 2 : EARLY MODERN DEBATES, POLEMICS AND CONTROVERSIES IN NATURAL PHILOSOPHY (Chairs : Christian Barth, Berlin, and Dominik Perler, Berlin/Princeton)

General Topic description
Unlike their scholastic predecessors, early modern philosophers subscribing to the program of the “new science” rejected the hylomorphist view that natural processes are to be described and explained in terms of matter and form. They unanimously claimed that the methods of mechanistic physics should be applied. This makes it tempting to assume that these philosophers agreed in their account of nature and natural processes. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. There were especially two issues that were highly debated in this period. Our section will focus on them, thus paying attention to controversies among mechanistic philosophers of nature.
The first issue concerns the theory of matter. What exactly is matter? Is it constituted by a homogenous material plenum that is infinitely divisible, as corpuscularianists like René Descartes assumed? Or does matter ultimately consist of indivisible atoms, as atomists like Pierre Gassendi held? Every attempt to answer these questions immediately poses the methodological problem of how to deal with them. Is the question concerning the nature of matter an empirical one that is to be approached by means of experimental devices such as microscopes, or is it a strictly non-empirical question that is to be settled by pure thinking? Closely linked to the debates about matter is the controversy about the possibility of a vacuum since corpuscularianists typically held that a vacuum is impossible. But how are these claims connected? Does corpuscularianism really entail the impossibility of a vacuum, and atomism its possibility? Or do the typical commitments of atomism and corpuscularianism depend on further, perhaps implicit assumptions? Focusing on controversies among defenders of these positions helps to answer these questions, because in controversies authors are often pressed on questions that they would tend to bypass. For this reason a close examination of these debates can turn out to be a veritable source of philosophical-historical insights.
The same holds for the second issue we want to analyze in our section. This is the theory of causality, which was also a highly debated topic among early modern authors. How should we understand causal relations in nature? Do natural things have genuine causal powers that bring about certain effects? Or is their causal activity rather due to God, as occasionalists (like Nicolas Malebranche) or semi-occasionalists (like Louis de la Forge) maintained. Or does this question rest on an altogether flawed presupposition, as Spinoza would have it, who took singular things to be mere modes of God that express his infinite power? Or should we rather leave these controversies about the nature of causality behind us by acknowledging that the only idea of causality we can have is the one of a regular succession between certain types of events, as Hume argued? And what about final causality? Is the notion of a final cause intrinsically mistaken, as Spinoza thought, or can we make sense of this notion when we talk about the actions of minds, as Leibniz argued? The early modern period is full of debates about the correct understanding of causation. It was the engagement in this on-going controversy that allowed early modern authors to fathom the strengths and weaknesses of different accounts of causality and to devise ever more sophisticated theories of causality.

Topic I: Matter
  • Delphine Bellis (Ghent), Les débats sur la nature de la lumière dans la première moitié du XVIIe siècle : autour de Descartes, Gassendi et Boulliau
A partir de la seconde moitié du XVIIe siècle, plusieurs théories sur la nature de la lumière apparaissent, considérant la lumière soit comme une onde (Huygens) soit comme un faisceau de corpuscules (Newton). Mais ces théories divergentes ont été précédées d’un débat aux oppositions apparemment moins marquées, mais mettant en jeu des positions théoriques pourtant plus éloignées les unes des autres que celles qui émergent à partir de la deuxième moitié du XVIIe siècle. En effet, avant 1650 le débat porte sur le rapport du phénomène lumineux à une conception plus générale de la matière et comporte une dimension philosophique beaucoup plus prégnante (La lumière est-elle substance ou accident ? Est-elle matérielle ou formelle ? corporelle ou incorporelle ?). Pour cerner la spécificité de ce débat, nous partirons du De natura lucis de Boulliau, ouvrage exposant différentes opinions sur la nature de la lumière et issu de la discussion de l’auteur avec Gassendi qui défend, contrairement à Boulliau, une conception atomiste de la lumière. Cet ouvrage, publié peu de temps après la Dioptrique de Descartes, suscite la critique de ce dernier. Nous verrons qu’autour de cette question apparemment circonscrite de la nature de la lumière s’affrontent en fait plusieurs grandes options sur la nature de la matière (en particulier l’aristotélisme, l’atomisme et le corpuscularisme) qui sont au cœur des débats philosophiques de cette première moitié du XVIIe siècle. Mais la question de la nature de la lumière, par les problèmes spécifiques qu’elle pose, révèle également que les lignes de partage et d’opposition entre ces grandes options philosophiques ne se dessinent pas toujours là où on les attendrait, ni avec autant de netteté que ce que l’on aurait pu prévoir. 
  • Christoph Lüthy (Nijmegen), Hylemorphism, atoms, corpuscles: a survey of the polemical front-lines in the years 1640-50
In 1600, philosophers who found it interesting or even necessary to defend the existence of atoms were few and far between. In 1700, most European philosophers either invoked atoms or robust physical corpuscles in their explanations of natural phenomena, or alternatively had to spend much intellectual energy in order to combat such notions. Physics and metaphysics without such entities seemed impossible. The decades between these two dates saw a veritable neo-atomist revival. Most unusual about this revival is that there was no consensus over the reasons for either proposing such indivisible atoms or divisible corpuscles or else for rejecting them. In fact, atoms, particles, corpuscles or minima were variously proposed for empirical, logical, metaphysical, physical, religious or historical reasons, and they were rejected from arguments taken from the same domains. What, then, was perceived to be at stake, and by whom? This lecture shall examine the crucial decade 1640-1650. As we shall see, it is not the case that there existed three compact conceptual camps, namely hylemorphists, atomists and corpuscularians. Rather, the polemical battle-lines were much more complex, and they were continuously shifting. This lecture tries to give a picture of this situation and locate the major argumentative clashes.

Topic II: Causation

  • Stephan Schmid (Berlin), Essence, Power, and Natural Teleology in Spinoza - Approaching a Controversy from a Late Scholastic Perspective
Early modern philosophers are famous for their various polemics against their scholastic predecessors. Spinoza is no exception to this. In the appendix to the first part of the Ethics he rigorously attacks the Aristotelian doctrine of final causes as a view that turns nature completely upside down. Unfortunately, it is all but clear how this polemic attack is precisely to be understood. Is it directed against every form of teleology whatsoever? Such an interpretation does not only stand at odds with the fact that Spinoza explicitly endorses that humans often act for selfish purposes, but with Spinoza’s famous conatus-doctrine, according to which every finite being exhibits by its very nature a striving for self-preservation. In light of these difficulties, it is not surprising that scholars have debated for years about the status of teleology in Spinoza. All these debates centre on the question as to whether it is legitimate to attribute a kind of teleology to Spinoza when he rejects final causes. In my paper I want to make a historical case for answering this question to the affirmative: As I will point out with regard to Francisco Suárez, already late scholastic philosophers were skeptical about the notion of final cause and its ability to account for natural teleology, and instead looked for other ways to explain the intrinsically teleological striving of natural things. Thus, by approaching Spinoza’s polemics against final causes and the modern exegetical controversy about its implications from a late scholastic perspective, one can see that not every rejection of final causes immediately comes along with a global rejection of teleology.
  • Valtteri Viljanen (Turku), The Early Modern Rationalists and the Formal Cause: Were They Ever Really Against It?
The title of this paper may give rise to wonder. Is it not quickly answered: with regard to Descartes and Spinoza the answer is ‘yes,’ with regard to Leibniz ‘no’? This reaction is understandable; but on a closer look, things are considerably more complex, and interesting.
The formal cause was most often conceived of as the form of a substance, or as the substantial form. Descartes’ official stance on substantial forms is clear enough: they are to be discarded as useless and unknown, for they are not needed in explaining natural phenomena or found amongst the qualities of matter (see e.g. CSMK, 122, 205–7). However, in a 1645 letter to Mesland there is also a well-known passage that paints a rather different picture. There Descartes begins his account of bodies’ persistence over time by saying that as far as “body in general” is concerned, “if any particle of the matter were changed, ... the body was no longer ... numerically the same” (CSMK, 242–3). But with regard to human beings, the situation is quite different: as long as a certain piece of matter is “united with” or “informed by” a certain human soul (sometimes designated as its form; see CSMK, 279), it remains the numerically same (human) body—even if that matter would take a very different shape, and even if all of its parts were to be changed. Now one of the traditional tasks of the substantial form was to play a key role in offering criteria for individuality and its persistence over time, so that we can legitimately say e.g. that a certain (natural) thing we encounter now is the same thing we encountered yesterday. In this respect, Descartes assigns to the rational soul a metaphysical task that comes close—dangerously so, one might say—to one that was traditionally assigned to the soul as the substantial form of the body.
Spinoza nowhere offers a proper discussion of substantial forms—just some quick and harsh words against them (see e.g. Ep13 and Ep56)—, which leaves unclear what, exactly, he finds objectionable in doctrines espousing them. True, Spinoza shows no signs of endorsing any form of hylomorphism; but this does not mean that his system could not contain elements rooted in the very philosophical intuitions behind the Aristotelians’ introduction of the formal cause. And indeed, an examination of Spinoza’s essentialism shows this to be the case. First, Spinoza uses emanative terminology traditionally connected to the operation of the (substantial) formal cause, once even calling mind the formal cause of its (adequate) ideas (E5p31); second, the essence of a geometrical object—for Spinoza, evidently the paradigmatic case of a thing—was still in the seventeenth century customarily seen as the formal cause of its properties; third, according to Spinoza, all things are causally efficacious in virtue of their essences (E1p36), just as the scholastics saw certain properties and powers as pertaining to natural agents in virtue of their substantial form; finally, essences are the individuating features of reality, making things what they are. On the basis of all this, I will argue that Spinoza’s understanding of essence is to a notable extent similar to the more traditional doctrine of formal cause: for Spinoza, essences—the key operative ingredient of which was, for the Aristotelians, form—are both individuators and centres of causal efficacy.
Against the aforementioned background, I will briefly examine Leibniz’s well-known rehabilitation of the substantial form: even though physical phenomena can be explained through mechanical principles alone, those principles are ultimately derived from a superior formal principle closely intertwined with the notion of force (see Specimen dynamicum I; AG, 125). Thus, the derivative forces are rooted in the primitive ones of the metaphysical (substantial) form, which makes the latter hardly irrelevant for the full and proper grasp of the operations of things. All in all, my discussion indicates that the early modern rationalists show an increasing sensitivity to a cluster of philosophical topics around which the traditional notion of formal cause revolved. Despite its author’s hostility toward the concept of substantial form, Descartes’ philosophy is not altogether exempted of certain of its danglers; whereas Spinoza and Leibniz offer, for understandable reasons, remarkably elaborate philosophical theories with notable affinities with the traditional notion of formal cause.


General Topic Description
Early modern philosophers were preoccupied with the gap between the vernacular and rational understanding of the concepts and distinctions of moral experience, including free will and the social emotions of love and benevolence, and the various understandings of these concepts when embedded in Christian theology. The need to accommodate or to resist theological interpretations generated controversy, but so too did the attempts to re-articulate moral concepts within what was increasingly not only a secular but also a scientific framework. The influential interpretation of the human body as a machine for living, sensory experience as impelling its movements, and the emotions as sources of information about the environment rather than as unwanted disruptions of its proper functioning, powerfully influenced the direction of debates. The sense of liberation from theological shackles was countered by the worry that the liberated entity might be only a machine with a delusory sense of its own moral freedom.
The discovery or rediscovery of the social emotions, meanwhile, was an element of the emerging anthropology of early modern thought and the attempt to construct a normative ethics from within human life, rather than in terms of supernatural command and the consequences of disobedience, or at least to demonstrate the compatibility of these two very different frameworks. The papers will address the clashes between theological and secular understandings of moral concepts and also the controversies generated by the efforts to rethink the human being as a part of nature, subject to its laws.

  • Martine Pécharman (Paris), Hobbes, White et Bramhall sur la question de la cause du mal. De la controverse sur le meilleur des mondes possibles  à la controverse sur la liberté et la nécessité.

Révélé au public par la publication en 1654 de l’écrit de Hobbes Of Liberty and Necessity. A treatise, wherein all controversy concerning predestination, election, free-will, grace, merits, reprobation, &c. is fully decided and cleared, le débat opposant à Paris en 1645 le philosophe anglais en exil à un autre exilé, l’évêque de Derry John Bramhall, est souvent ramené à l’opposition entre une thèse incompatibiliste (Bramhall) et une thèse compatibiliste (Hobbes) sur la liberté et le déterminisme. Il s’agit alors principalement d’apprécier la suffisance ou l’insuffisance des arguments que Hobbes avance à l’appui de la thèse compatibiliste dans Of Liberty and Necessity et qu’il réaffirme en 1656 dans The Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity and Chance. Clearly Stated and Debated between Dr. Bramhall Bishop of Derry and Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury - réplique conjointe au Discourse of Liberty and Necessity (1645) et à la Defence of True Liberty from Antecedent Necessity (1646) de Bramhall, publiés dans un même recueil en 1655.
Le défaut de cette approche est cependant d’occulter la manière précise dont l’argumentation contrastée de Hobbes et Bramhall, dans l’ensemble de ces textes, se concentre sur la question de l’origine du mal. Bramhall porte contre le nécessitarisme de Hobbes l’accusation de négation du péché d’Adam. A ses yeux, le refus par Hobbes de poser la question morale de la cause de l’action en d’autres termes que la question dans la philosophie naturelle de la production d’un effet quelconque, débouche en droite ligne sur un renouvellement du manichéisme. Cette accusation de manichéisme sera elle-même retournée par Hobbes contre les défenseurs du libre arbitre dans l’Historical Narration Concerning Heresy, and the Punishment Thereof (1666, publication posthume en 1680).
Afin d’éclairer cette dimension négligée de la controverse sur le déterminisme, je me propose de replacer la polémique avec Bramhall dans le contexte d’une réflexion sur la cause du mal déjà engagée par Hobbes fin 1642-début 1643 à l’occasion de sa critique du De Mundo Dialogi Tres du théologien catholique anglais Thomas White. Dans son examen du Dialogus Tertius, De causis mundi, l’Anti-White récuse la thèse d’un choix divin du meilleur des mondes parmi une infinité de mondes créables. Mon projet est de montrer de quelle façon la doctrine de l’omnipotence divine élaborée dans ce manuscrit (et dont la permanence se vérifie en fait jusque dans le Leviathan latin publié en 1668) nourrit les arguments utilisés par Hobbes contre Bramhall en vue de dissocier la question de la liberté de l’action de celle de la liberté du vouloir. Je me propose d’abord de reconsidérer l’opposition entre les thèses incompatibiliste et compatibiliste sur le libre et le nécessaire en la confrontant à la polémique sur le besoin ou non d’une théodicée au fondement de la morale. J’insisterai pour finir sur les conséquences de la doctrine de la potentia Dei pour l’invalidation par Hobbes du libre arbitre comme d’un vouloir vouloir. Ce refus du vouloir vouloir (dont il convient de se demander si Leibniz l’approuve, dans le second appendice des Essais de Théodicée, pour les raisons qui sont celles de Hobbes) fait de l’adversaire de White et de Bramhall le défenseur constant d’une théorie des volitions de l’agent humain, plutôt que de la volonté de l’homme.

  • Sabrina Ebbersmeyer (Munich), The autonomy of immaterial machines. Leibniz and the debate about free will

During the seventeenth century, a hotly debated question concerned the compatibility of determinism and free will. Leibniz took up this question at several occasions and developed his own solution to the problem by distinguishing various kinds of necessity and dissociating necessity from determination. His solution attracted extensive scholarly attention and is still a matter of controversial discussion.
However, while Leibniz defends the idea of free will in human beings he still regards the human mind as a complex entity, containing an infinite number of perceptions and tendencies, which can never become fully transparent to itself. Occasionally, he even characterizes the human mind as an immaterial automaton or machine. But how can a machine, even if immaterial, be free?
In my paper I will try to elucidate Leibniz’s understanding of the human mind as both, an automaton and as autonomous while focussing on his long lasting discussion with Pierre Bayle.

  • Gábor Boros (Budapest), The Masham-Norris-Malebranche Controversy on Love

Damaris Masham (1658-1708)’s A Discourse Concerning the Love of God (London, 1696, Amsterdam, 1705 in French) contains a detailed criticism of the Cambridge Platonist-Priest John Norris (1657-1711) on the issue of the philosophical concept of love. Norris’ The Theory and Regulation of Love. A Moral Essay (Oxford, 1688) as well as his sermon on Matthew 22,37 contains a theory of love based essentially on Malebranche. Masham argues philosophically and theologically against both authors. Theologically she reproaches Norris the unnecessary and illicit leaning on the work of a philosopher whose theological background is clearly that of a catholic priest who looks for theological subtleties even in those biblical passages that can and must be understood in the literal sense by the everyday people. I.e. theologically she contrasts puritan Protestantism with all too subtle Catholicism. Philosophically she thinks the occasionalist concept of love distorts the relations between the creatures and God, those relations that are basically unproblematic for the sound reasoning of everyday people. In my paper I’ll explore the context and the background of these aspects of the controversy looking into the texts of not only the main protagonists but also those of Spinoza, the interpreter of the Bible and of Augustine, the main Christian theoretician of love.

  • Peter Kail (Oxford), What is controversial about the moral sense?

In this paper I try to map out some of the ways in which the moral sense theories of the period were thought to be controversial (rather than wrong merely in detail) during the period and in doing so try to uncover what fundamentally drove such objections. The paper into three parts, corresponding to the rather different articulations of the moral sense given by Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury, Francis Hutcheson and David Hume. At the same time I shall try to draw attention to what are fundamental differences among these theories and involve different metaphysical commitments which each author would themselves should find controversial, and yet they remain silent on the matter.


Topic I : The Controversy between Anthony Collins and Samuel Clarke about the Nature of the Mind (Udo Thiel)

General Topic Description
After the Cartesian attempt to replace the Aristotelian conception with the notion of the mind or soul as a complete and immaterial substance, the nature of the mind became a central topic of philosophical debate in Early Modern Philosophy. At the end of the seventeenth century Locke suggested that the soul might be a material entity or that ‘thinking matter’ is possible, i.e. that the notion does not involve a contradiction. As John Yolton has shown, Locke’s suggestion, in combination with the development of a new conception of matter and of developments in physiology, led to more self-confident and powerful materialist accounts of the human mind in the course of the eighteenth century.
The debate between Anthony Collins (1676-1729) and Samuel Clarke (1675-1729) is situated at the beginning of this development and proved to be immensely influential on subsequent discussions about the nature of the mind (e.g. in Joseph Priestley). It took place from 1706-1708 and was inspired by Henry Dodwell’s An Epistolary Discourse, proving from the Scripture and the first Fathers, that the Soul is a Principle naturally Mortal (London 1706). Dodwell’s thesis about the natural mortality of the soul drew criticism from Samuel Clarke, while Collins defended Dodwell. Collins was a follower of Locke on many issues but unlike Locke was committed to a materialist understanding of the mind. Clarke, by contrast, argued that the suggestion about the possibility of thinking matter was very implausible, to say the least. As the controversy continued, Dodwell dropped out of the picture and Collins and Clarke focused on a whole range of epistemological and metaphysical issues related to that of the nature of the mind, including consciousness, self-consciousness, personal identity, fre will and determinism.

  • Vili Lähteenmäki (Jyväskylä), The Nature of Consciousness in the Clarke Collins Debate

While consciousness merits a central place in the debate between Clarke and Collins, neither party provides a careful description of the notion(s) of consciousness they adopt. A need for clarity of their conceptions is underlined by the fact there are a number of issues Clarke and Collins discuss in the course of their exchange that directly concern consciousness. These issues include the question of consciousness as a real property vs. an emergent property; consciousness as a power, as an individual act, and/or as representation; consciousness as requiring an individual being as its subject; and obviousness of consciousness as a phenomenon vs. consciousness as a reflex act that provides one with knowledge of one’s actions as one’s own.
Moreover, from a broader point of view, in the debate consciousness is sometimes treated as a psychological phenomenon, sometimes as a metaphysical notion, and at other times with moral import.
Through discussing these topics and items of disagreement, the aim of the presentation is to clarify the conception(s) of consciousness that emerge in the debate between Clarke and Collins.
  • Falk Wunderlich (Mainz), Clarke, Collins, and the Controversy on Thinking Matter
The early modern controversies on what kind of being ultimately underlies thought is among the most widespread and violent ones. Its first wave caused by Hobbes’ materialism was followed by a second one based on Locke’s proposal that God could superadd the capacity of thought to matter. The public exchange of letters between Samuel Clarke and Anthony Collins that took place between 1706 and 1708 is the most extensive contribution to this second wave. In my paper, I will concentrate on two aspects: (1) Collins’ account of a materialist theory of the mind based on the notion of what is today called emergent properties; this argument is debated by both participants at length. (2) Second, I will deal with the problems Clarke raises concerning superaddition. The possibility of superadding properties to matter that do not belong to it naturally is crucial to Locke’s proposal whereas Collins’ position seems unclear in this regard.

Topic II: The Molyneux Question / Le problème de Molyneux (James Hill)

General Topic Description
The Irish philosopher William Molyneux sent the following question to John Locke in a letter of 1693:

Suppose a man born blind, and now adult, and taught by his touch to distinguish between a cube and a sphere of ivory, nighly of the same bigness, so as to tell, when he felt one and the other, which is the cube and which the sphere. Suppose then, the cube and sphere placed on a table, and the blind man to be made to see. [I ask] whether by his sight, before he touched them, he could now distinguish and tell which is the globe which the cube.

Locke’s inclusion of this question in the second edition of his Essay on Human Understanding of 1694 brought it to the attention of the philosophical public. A lively debate ensued about how the question should be answered. Not only Locke, but also such luminaries as Leibniz, Berkeley, Hutcheson, Voltaire and Condillac all addressed the question posed by Molyneux, and plentiful reasons were offered for both a positive and a negative answer.
In the course of the debate a number of things became increasingly clear. It was soon apparent that Molyneux had under-described the scenario in his original question in certain critical ways.  It was not clear, for example, if the subject could survey the two objects from different perspectives, observe them in motion (and thus see the rolling of one and not of the other) or, indeed, if he or she was to be given time to reflect and make inferences about what was seen. Nor was it clear whether the subject would be informed at the outset that a globe and a cube lay on the table in front of them.
More importantly, it became apparent during the debate―and has since in retrospect become clearer still―that the philosophical significance of the Molyneux Question can be understood in multiple ways. It seems to raise the issue of whether sight, unaided by the other senses, is able to directly perceive three dimensional spatial properties. It also raises the question, internal to vision itself, of the nature of the relation between the perception of colour (or light and shade) and  the perception of shape. In addition it questions whether there are ‘common sensibles’ and, possibly, whether there is a faculty of ‘common sense’ as delineated by the Aristotleans. The Molyneux Question can also be interpreted in a broader way to be asking whether judgement is implicit in sense perception, and thus whether perception involves unconscious mental activity.
While the Molyneux Question began as a thought-experiment, it (or something like it) was to become the subject of a real experiment. In 1728 the surgeon William Cheselden removed cataracts from the eyes of a congenitally blind boy who was then visually confronted with physical objects for the first time. However this did not resolve the debate. Instead, Cheselden’s account of the details of the surgical operation and its aftermath, along with the evidence of the young boy, themselves became subject to further disputed interpretations.

  • Laura Berchielli (Clermont-Ferrand), La question de Molyneux et son statut de controverse

Deux caractéristiques semblent faire sortir la discussion de la question de Molyneux du nombre des controverses philosophiques: 1) que les participants à la discussion renvoient à un interlocuteur qui, dans la grande majorité des cas, n’est pas vivant ; et surtout 2) que chaque auteur modifie à sa guise la question en rendant difficile, voire impossible, la comparaison entre les différentes réponses.
Ainsi bien que, traditionnellement l’on se réfère, de manière générale, à la discussion de toute question concernant un aveugle né qui retrouve la vue et qui est appelé à reconnaître différentes figures, comme à la discussion de la question de Molyneux, il est évident que les transformations à chaque fois introduites modifient substantiellement les points de départ et la signification de la question et n’ont qu’un rapport assez lâche avec la question et le contexte de la vraie et unique question de Molyneux. D’autres modifications substantielles se font en faisant varier le contexte où la question et sa discussion sont insérées. En effet, si la question est chaque fois différente et si l’interlocuteur n’est pas en mesure de réagir à la nouvelle version de la question il semble manquer précisément le terrain commun, le champ de bataille nécessaire au déroulement d’une controverse.
Cependant, si l’on change de point de vue et l’on considère la discussion de la question de plus loin, il est possible de retrouver une sorte de terrain commun très vaste et général partagé par la grande majorité des auteurs qui ont répondu à une quelque version de la question de Molyneux. Ce terrain commun est l’intérêt pour le contenu immédiat des sensations et pour les rapports entre celles-ci et les différentes manières de concevoir ou de percevoir l’étendue. A l’intérieur de ce champ d’intérêt, il est possible de déterminer des développements différents selon trois phases qui abordent des thématiques relativement différentes. Cependant, même à l’intérieur de ces trois phases, il est difficile de trouver des oppositions frontales.
La première phase commence avec l’Essai de Locke et se retrouve dans l’Essai sur l’origine des connaissances humaines de Condillac. Dans cette première phase de la discussion, la question de Molyneux est utilisée pour illustrer différentes manières de concevoir la perception de la troisième dimension de l’espace ou bien le rapport entre les idées particulières de l’étendue perçues par la vue et par le toucher et les notions intellectuelles de l’étendue géométrique. Ce qui est supposée de manière très large dans cette première phase est que l’étendue est considérée comme un contenu possible aussi bien des idées de la vue que de celles du toucher. Dans la deuxième phase, développée par Berkeley dans la NTV et par Condillac dans le Traité des sensations, la question de Molyneux est exploitée pour distinguer précisément les données propres à chaque sens et surtout pour déterminer les caractéristiques propres et essentielles à toute idée de l’étendue. Enfin, Reid – en séparant nettement la sensation de la perception - utilise la question pour montrer que contrairement à ce qui avait été pensé avant lui il n’y a pas de rapport de continuité entre les contenus qualitatifs propre à chaque sens et la perception de l’espace et de ses propriétés.
Donc si l’on veut traiter la question de Molyneux comme une controverse, celle-ci doit être comprise non pas comme affrontement de deux positions opposées, mais plutôt comme abandon d’une thématique pour en introduire une autre considérée plus centrale ou préliminaire. Les différentes ‘questions de Molyneux’ suivent et illustrent donc les modifications à l’égard de ce qui est considéré comme fondamental dans l’étude de l’espace et de sa perception.

  • Marion Chottin (Paris), Trouble dans la métaphysique : Condillac face au problème de Molyneux

A distance de l’idée selon laquelle les problèmes viennent uniquement éprouver la puissance théorique des philosophies qui s’y confrontent, nous entendons montrer, au travers du traitement condillacien du problème de Molyneux, non seulement qu’un problème est générateur de thèses et de concepts neufs, mais qu’il peut encore faire vaciller une pensée et la reconfigurer.
Dans l’Essai sur l’origine des connaissances humaines (1746), Condillac s’attache à répondre à son tour au problème que Molyneux posa à Locke en 1693, parce que les réponses qui lui ont déjà été fournies contredisent selon lui le projet dans lequel elles s’inscrivent et qu’il reprend à son compte : celui de dériver les connaissances de cela seul qui peut être objet d’expérience. Le problème de Molyneux met ainsi au jour une contradiction théorique qui serait autrement passée inaperçue.
Cependant, la thèse originale que sa réponse au problème de Molyneux le conduit à énoncer (la vue délivre toutes les idées de l’étendue) introduit une contradiction dans sa propre métaphysique : toujours d’après Condillac (Traité des sensations, 1754), affirmer qu’un aveugle-né qui recouvrirait la vue serait capable de reconnaître un cube et une sphère posés face à lui implique tout autant que la réponse (négative) de Locke la position d’un jugement au coeur de la perception sensible. La réponse que l’Essai fournit au problème de Molyneux fait ainsi vaciller la métaphysique de l’ouvrage.
A ce titre, la métaphysique que Condillac élabore dans son Traité des sensations émane au moins partiellement de ce premier traitement du problème de Molyneux : il s’agit alors, pour l’abbé, d’épurer la sensation originaire de tout jugement d’entendement, pour en faire l’unique fondement de la science.

COLLLOQIUM 5 : EARLY MODERN DEBATES, POLEMICS AND CONTROVERSIES IN POLITICS (Chairs : Susan James, London, and Pierre-François Moreau, Lyon)

General Topic description
Une des caractéristiques de la philosophie politique au début de la modernité est que, tout en traitant encore les thèmes traditionnels (le meilleur gouvernement, le cycle des gouvernements, les rapports entre Eglise et pouvoir laïque), elle les juxtapose ou les subordonne à des questions nouvelles, qu’elle importe de domaines jusque là extérieurs à elle ou en cours de fondation : le droit et l’économie politique. L’insertion de ces objets nouveaux dans une discipline traditionnelle en modifie considérablement la configuration : penser la politique sous les catégories du droit privé, comme le fait la théorie du contrat, met au centre de la réflexion une forme très déterminée d’individu (le sujet de droit) ; réfléchir sur la liberté du commerce ou la propriété prend en compte une extension nouvelle des questions qui concernent souverain et citoyen.
Among the many controversies that shaped early-modern political philosophy, debates about the very nature of political agreement are surely one of the most pervasive.  Can people agree to the terms of political association, as the contract tradition so often assumes? Is there some rational ground of their agreement? Or is politics fundamentally a matter of coercion? Hannah Dawson and Jean Terrel will explore two complementary aspects of this issue that have on the whole been marginalised. Hannah Dawson will show how the adversarial genre of disputation was used as a means of establishing truth, and thus calming controversy about the basis of political association. Coming at the same general issue from another direction, Jean Terrel will examine the various ways in which social contract theories assume that everyone can be brought to agree to the terms of the social contract, thus suppressing the problem of controversy or disagreement among individuals. Why isn’t this assumption more often challenged within the contract tradition?
Alongside its focus on the relations between states and citizens, early modern political philosophy became increasingly concerned to theorise the idea of an economy, and here, too, a number of interconnected controversies arose.  One of the most vital concerned the nature and use of money. What sorts of monetary contracts are conducive to human flourishing and what monetary policies can best advance the common good? Margaret Schabas will explore the development of these debates in the Scottish Enlightenment, focusing particularly on the contribution of David Hume. The issues she discusses in turn bear on a broader problem, which itself gave rise to controversy: how are economies best studied?  In particular, is political economy a science? Catherine Larrère will address this problem, taking as her case study the Galiani’s and Turgot’s quarrel over the corn trade during the 1760s.

Topic I: Theories of Social Contracts

  • Jean Terrel (Bordeaux), Le discours classique du contrat social et le problème de la division sociale

Il s’agit d’examiner pourquoi dans la tradition contractualiste classique (qui noue une théorie des droits naturels, une théorie du contrat et une théorie de la souveraineté [ou simplement comme chez Locke du gouvernement]), le thème de la division sociale est si peu présent ou en tout cas n’est jamais, avant Rousseau bien sûr, abordé frontalement. L’enquête devrait porter principalement sur Hobbes, Pufendord et Locke.
Rousseau est le contre exemple. De ce point de vue, on peut reprendre le fameux débat à propos des deux contrats, celui du Second discours et celui du Contrat social, pour montrer qu’il confirme la difficulté à penser la division sociale à l’intérieur de la problématique classique du pacte social.

  • Hannah Dawson (Edinburgh),

Inherited from ancient Greece and scholastic logic, the early-modern genre of disputation used the practice of controversy to perform two often opposing functions: the dialogical establishment of truth and the achievement of victory. This paper will examine a collection of disputations on the law of nature delivered by John Locke to his students at Christ Church Oxford in c. 1663. It will explore the conventions and constraints of this genre in mid-seventeenth-century pedagogy.

Topic II: Econonomy

  • Margaret Schabas (University of British Columbia), A Cautious, Jealous Virtue:  Hume on Justice and Property

            Hume is notorious for conflating justice with property and for insisting that both are non-natural.  His account appears inadequate, both for delimiting justice to an economic sphere and for failing to motivate adequately the observance of property rights over time. In his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Hume maintains that property only comes into existence with scarcity. He imagines a world of abundance in which every person is entirely generous and has the “utmost tenderness” for everyone else.  The consequence is that there would be no property and hence no jealousy:  “the whole human race would form only one family; where all would lie in common, and be used freely, without regard to property.” Hume also considers the extreme opposite, a situation of depravation where even “the utmost frugality and industry cannot preserve the greater number from perishing, and the whole from extreme misery” (15).  There too he thinks the claims of property would be suspended.  After the siege of a city, or a shipwreck, or in the case of a famine, the requirements of self-preservation trump any claims of property.          
For Hume, “the ideas of property become necessary in all civil society” because of partiality to self, family and friends, and because “art, labour, and industry” are required to achieve the pleasures of life.  He offers a set of different scenarios, a kind of conjectural history, to demonstrate the validity of his account of the origins and evolution of property.  Given my sustained study of Hume’s economics, I will frame his account of property in this context. In particular, I will conjoin his vision for the future, a time of human flourishing and global peace and justice, with the diminution of property.

  • Catherine Larrère (Paris), La dispute de la fin des années 1760 sur la liberté du commerce des grains et l’économie politique comme science

Durant les années 1760, en France, pendant l’expérience de liberté du commerce des grains consécutive aux arrêts de 1764 et 1765, une dispute s’est développée les partisans et les adversaires de ces édits, notamment entre Galiani et Turgot. Cependant les promoteurs de ce débat ne se sont pas contentés d’être en désaccord sur les avantages et les inconvénients de la liberté du commerce, ils ont élevé le débat pour le placer sur la question du statut épistémique de l’économie politique. L’objet de cette intervention est de présenter le choix stratégique qui fut celui des physiocrates dès les premiers articles de Quesnay : arguer du caractère scientifique de leur doctrine pour mieux avancer leur cause, valider leurs opinions et dévaloriser leurs adversaires. Ils ont, de la sorte, mélangé des arguments que nous dirions aujourd’hui de fonds et de méthode, de telle sorte que les deux types de controverse soient inséparables. Nous voudrions également profiter de cette occasion pour examiner la relation entre une “querelle”, pour employer le vocabulaire du XVIIIe siècle, et une controverse (dans les termes d’aujourd’hui). Quelle perception les promoteurs de cette querelle avaient-ils de leurs propres différences et qu’est-ce que cela nous apprend sur nos hypothèses de travail ?


General Topic description
It is interesting to note that the mere presence of a session on history of science in a conference on history of philosophy devoted to DPCs already reflects one crucial debate that stretches from the early modern time up till ours: the contested boundaries between science and philosophy. Now, it is obvious that our stating this in terms of “science”, as if this was a monolithic block, is in itself already the result of multifaceted, often controversial processes. To bring this out, we want to focus on less straightforwardly “scientific” practices, that not only have often been devaluated from a historiographic point of view, but the relative worth of which was already the focus of intense debate in the early modern period.
We are interested in the DPCs that arise at the boundaries of the field of philosophy for a number of reasons. Firstly, to understand why certain considerations were deemed proper to philosophy, while others had to be excluded. Secondly, to see how these DPCs helped shape the development of philosophy, not only through the negative moment of excluding certain types of considerations, but also by incorporating aspects of these other practices. Yet, thirdly and maybe most importantly, we do not necessarily want to look at these exchanges exclusively through the lens of what (afterwards) became philosophy as we know and recognize it, but also try to understand the stakes from the point of view of these “inferior” practices.
(I) In a first part of the session we will focus on a discipline whose role in the “scientific revolution” has, until recently, often been undervalued. Indeed medicine shares with magic and engineering the characteristic of being related to a practical aim (healing). In addition, physicians (both of the body and of the mind) had to answer many accusations, and especially those of impiety and atheism. Historians of medicine generally try to understand how a consensus emerged about what we consider nowadays as major scientific discoveries (as for example the discovery of blood circulation). In contrast, we would like to show how DPCs which arose between less famous scientists about what we could consider as exotic or curious objects are crucial to understand two aspects:
- first, motives of resistance against a discovery
- second, what is at stake in major philosophical discussions of the time (links between matter and spirit, between nature and God, the nature of life and death etc.).
(II) In the second part, we will look at respectively magic and engineering. While obviously quite apart in a number of ways, there are also important points of convergence: both had an explicitly operative rather than contemplative focus, both had important links with the idea of wonder, and both forced a reconsideration of the ideas of matter and spirit (may be less obvious in the case of engineering, but one only has to consider the role of imagination and the notion of “génie” that is central in its denomination). 

Topic I: Medicine

  • Sorana Corneanu (Bucharest), Medicine of the Mind and Medicine of the Body in the Late Renaissance

The late Renaissance saw the rise of a preoccupation with the ‘cure’ or ‘culture’ of the soul or mind in works variously indebted to moral-philosophical, medical and theological discourses. This was a generally anti-scholastic, anti-systemic, transdisciplinary and practical preoccupation rooted in humanistic calls for the active life, understood in this context not primarily as an active civic life, but as a life devoted to the active pursuit of the reformation of man. The ‘medicine of the mind’ took several forms in early modern Europe, but here I will be concerned with one strand of it, which purported to give an account of, in Francis Bacon’s words, ‘human nature entire’, i.e., of man as a composite of body and soul, with a view to assessing and mending its defects. This strand uses the combined resources of medicine and of moral and theological thought, and offers a particularly interesting perspective on the ‘medical’ dimension of the ‘medicine of the mind’. I will be looking at works in the period between the 1570s and the 1620s by such authors as Levinus Lemnius, Juan Huarte de San Juan, John Woolton, Pierre de la Primaudaye, Timothie Bright, Thomas Wright, Thomas Walkington, John Abernethy, and Francis Bacon.
I would like to address one broad question, namely, the way such works construe the ‘medical’ dimension of their concern with the reformation of man. What in other works is a mere analogy between the medicine of the mind and the medicine of the body (capable of offering a set of analytical tools for addressing the question of the soul) is here superseded by substantive discussions of the mind-body or soul-body relationship, often undertaken as responses to the Galenic position in Quod animi mores. Such discussions serve to shape various understandings of ‘health’ and ‘disease’ with reference to both body and soul, and these understandings in turn serve to shape the various prescriptions of ‘cures’ or ‘regimens’ for the entire man. By paying attention to this variety of positions, it will be possible to distinguish among different solutions to the question of the degree of overlap or distinctness between the medicine of the soul and that of the body. Such solutions are indicative both of the effort to integrate the branches of the study (and cure) of ‘human nature entire’ and of the centripetal tendency of these branches. The latter made it possible, as Bacon recognized, for ethics and logic (by the side of pastoral care) to establish their status as mental-medicinal subjects in their own right, with only a thin relationship with the medicine of the body.
I will also propose that the relevant historiographic category for understanding these issues is not so much ‘controversy’ (as aptly defined by the organizers of this conference) but rather ‘strategic conversation’: there is indeed a tacit polemic going on in this respect, but without open attacks on or replies to other authors or positions. Rather, the situation ca be described as one of strategic moves (with reference to the disciplinary status of the medicine of the mind) underwritten by a tacit recognition of the wider conversation.

  • Raphaële Andrault (Paris), La vie et ses marges : le modèle circulatoire à l’épreuve de la transfusion sanguine

Entre 1666 et 1668, les Philosophical transactions et le Journal des sçavans se font à la fois l’écho et le médiateur d’une violente controverse sur la transfusion sanguine, d’abord pratiquée en Angleterre sur des animaux, puis en France sur l’homme. Selon les termes qu’emploiera Ménuret de Chambaud dans l’Encyclopédie un siècle plus tard, « transfuseurs » et « anti-transfuseurs » formaient alors deux partis opposés échangeant des arguments « à deux tranchants qui pouvaient se tourner également contre les deux partis [et] n’avaient servi qu’à échauffer et préparer les esprits sans éclaircir la question ». La controverse semble se clore rapidement pour des raisons institutionnelles : la transfusion sera interdite par arrêt du parlement de Paris, puis de Londres. Si ce court épisode de l’histoire de la médecine a déjà été commenté, c’est principalement sous l’angle des avancées techniques qu’elle révèle, sous celui des embarras juridiques et moraux qu’elle manifeste, et à partir de la question de l’antériorité de l’invention, trois aspects qui forment en effet une grande partie des échanges relayés dans les journaux savants.
S’en tenir à ces trois aspects ne rendrait cependant pas justice à la controverse, dont les enjeux touchent à des questions philosophiques et épistémologiques centrales pour les membres des académies scientifiques qui entendent tirer toutes les conclusions de la découverte de la circulation sanguine par Harvey. Il conviendra donc pour nous de nous interroger sur les conceptions de la vie que révèle cette controverse, à partir de l’étude précise de ses modalités littéraires et dialogiques. Nous entendons ainsi analyser l’évolution des positions sous l’effet de la polémique, le rôle des analogies proposées par les anti-transfuseurs et détournées par les transfuseurs, le choix des extraits publiés dans les journaux savants, et la constitution progressive de deux « partis » tranchés qui ne recoupent ni l’opposition entre «modernes », partisans de l’experimental philosophy, et « anciens », ni l’acceptation ou le refus d’une conception corpusculaire du corps, ni même, enfin, le conflit entre défenseurs de la découverte d’Harvey et détracteurs, puisque l’acceptation de cette découverte n’implique nullement de renoncer au modèle humoral des anciens et ne prescrit aucune interprétation univoque du rôle du sang au sein de l’organisme.
En effet, sous l’effet des objections des adversaires de la transfusion, les « transfuseurs » se trouvent bientôt dans l’obligation d’expliciter en partie le rapport qu’il convient d’établir entre le sang, considéré comme une simple substance nutritive de l’organisme, et les mœurs et inclinations de l’individu : si l’on transfère le sang d’un veau dans celui d’un homme, ce dernier héritera-t-il du caractère brutal de l’animal ? si l’on transfère le sang d’un jeune homme impétueux dans celui d’un vieillard timoré, celui-ci sera-t-il comme ressourcé et son tempérament transformé ? C’est donc le « lien harmonique de l’âme avec le corps » (Gurye de Montpolly) qui est en question : le problème strictement thérapeutique et technique de la prolongation de la vie et de la guérison des maladies par la transfusion se complique de celui de la nature des substrats organiques des inclinations individuelles, révélant l’absence de nette distinction entre la conservation de la vie au sens médical et la transmission ou transformation d’une vie au sens existentiel. De fait, la transfusion telle qu’elle apparaît au fil de la controverse semble davantage tenir de l’expérience de pensée (pour les anti-transfuseurs) ou du programme révolutionnaire d’une médecine à venir (pour les transfuseurs) que d’une simple technique actuelle susceptible de guérir les maladies. Aussi Lamy écrit-il que « la transfusion peut faire souffrir à un homme la peine de Nabuchodonosor, sans en avoir jamais commis le péché ». Si certains commentateurs ont pu déceler derrière le problème de la transfusion celui de la définition des espèces et de la nature des « âmes sensitives » qui les spécifient, il nous semble que cette dimension taxinomique qui peut paraître rétrospectivement essentielle est en réalité absente comme telle du débat au profit d’une réflexion sur les critères strictement médicaux de la préservation d’une identité à la fois humaine et individuelle.

Topic II: Alternative practices

  • Koen Vermeir (Paris), The mesmeric imagination revised

Among the most remarkable events at the end of the Enlightenment were the spectacular magnetic cures performed by Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815). Famously, Mesmer was uncovered and debunked as an illusionist by two committees of famous philosophers and physicians, one of them including Benjamin Franklin. The commission claimed that the imagination of the patients was responsible for the cures, not Mesmer’s strange rituals or magnetic procedures. They argued that the magnetic fluid that Mesmer postulated just did not exist. Before the commission reached this judgement, however, physicians had already been writing important critical assessments of Mesmers practices. It is these works that informed the theoretical explanation put forward by the commission. A study of these early medical criticisms of Mesmer, however, reveals a very different and complex role tf the imagination in the Mesmer controversy.
In this paper, I show that historical interpretation and appropriation played a crucial role in the Mesmer controversy. Physicians developed their criticism of Mesmer - and the central arguments against mesmerism that would shape the later controversy - in historical studies of magnetic medicine. First, these physicians argued that animal magnetism had a long genealogy, and was derivative of 16th and 17th century speculations. According to the medical establishment, this tradition was suspect, however, full or error and speculation. Second, they claimed that animal magnetism is not real but only an effect of the imagination. They based themselves on medical explanations made in older, now paradigmatic cases, and they explored the parallels with the contemporary discourse about mesmerism. It is striking that, despite these attempts at historicizing animal magnetism, the concept of the imagination is used uncritically and is not historicized by these physicians. Also in the secondary literature on the mesmerism debate, the imagination is taken for granted or is contextualised only to a limited degree.
It is the aim of this paper to historicize the concept of imagination that determined the mesmerism controversies by closely studying how the concept was used and from which sources it was derived. In the theories of the heterodox and ‘suspicious’ medico-magnetic tradition, supposed by Mesmer’s critics to resemble Mesmer’s doctrine, magnetism was closely related to the imagination. In this tradition, the imagination was akin to magnetism because it could act at a distance, even outside the body. Mesmer’s critics did not reflect on the fact that their own concept of imagination was the polar opposite - especially in relation to magnetism - from the concept of imagination in the sources they were reading. Even more curiously, the medical authorities cited by Mesmer’s critics and on which they based their critical analysis of Mesmerism, used a concept of imagination similar to the one used in the rejected ‘suspicious’ medico-magnetic tradition. Here too, the imagination was imbued with a power to transmit ideas and impressions to others, by a material process, resembling the action of animal magnetism itself.
Mesmer’s critics made a strong distinction between ‘physical’ and ‘moral’ causes (and with ‘moral’, they meant nothing else than ‘not physical’). This presupposition actually followed from their initial question: does Mesmer’s universal fluid exist? Does there exist a real physical cause of the mesmeric phenomena, or else? If the question is framed this way, their only alternative to a physical fluid was a non-physical cause. I will argue that this strict dichotomy was a consequence of Mesmer’s critics aim of unmasking animal magnetism as unreal. Hence, the imagination, seen as the ‘moral’ force responsible for the perceived physical effects, became the creator of ‘illusions’. In their responses, the supporters of animal magnetism constructed the imagination very differently. Their solution came close to the position of the heterodox medico-magnetic tradition. By studying the very different versions of the imagination, constructed in these debates, as well as by studying their history, genealogy and appropriation by the actors, we will get a new perspective on this crucial aspect of the Mesmer debates. At the same time, it will allow us to reinterpret this central episode in the historiography of the imagination.

  •  Matteo Valleriani (Berlin), 16th-Century Professionals and Natural Philosophers : A Debate about Nature

During the 16th century, certain categories of professionals, such as military engineers and architects, or hydraulic engineers, began to face fundamental philosophical questions concerning the positioning of their own activities and, specifically, their relation to natural philosophy.
During the 13th and 14th centuries two opposed views concerning the relationship between nature and human beings emerged. On one side is the traditional medieval and Christian approach according to which God is the creator of nature and the intellects of human beings are able to fathom the secrets of nature, but only along the path of the first science, that is, of theology and faith. On the basis of the reception of Averroë’s philosophy in particular, an opposite view emerged during the 14th century which aimed to demonstrate the possibility for philosophy—rational human intellect—to decipher nature.
Between these two positions several syntheses emerged as well. As early as the 13th century great thinkers such as Albert the Great and Thomas of Aquinas reacted to the emergence of radical Averroism by recuperating the original Aristotelian views and integrating them as far as possible into the Christian dogmas. As is well known, a paradigmatic interpretation emerged by revisiting the Aristotelian doctrine from the Christian perspective. . In contrast to the older school, influenced mainly by medieval Neoplatonism, more freedom was provided to the human intellect for the investigation of nature, where nature and its philosophy were fundamentally Aristotelian. In contrast to radical Averroism, natural philosophy, however, remained subject to the Christian dogmas.
Earlier, as well as more recent scholars such as Pierre Duhem or Alistar Crombie, shaped the view that the foundation of the new and empirically oriented scientific method can be found in the great syntheses of the 13th century and implicitly suggest that artifacts, like the output of the mechanical arts, comply with experiments: something that in itself is not natural, i.e. produced by human beings, can be used to investigate nature.
Among most of the historians of early modern science, however, the conviction is prevalent that an empirical scientific method able to consider the activities in the frame of the mechanical arts first emerged during the first half of the 17th century in the context of the works of Galileo Galilei and his contemporaries.
In the frame of the re-emergence of Aristotelian natural philosophy during the 13th and 14th centuries, the subjects related to the validity of the mechanical arts as a means of investigating nature remained mostly unexplored. It is true that some of the so-called mixed sciences, like optics, were clearly positioned in the frame of natural inquiry, which means that both geometry and observation practice were at least discussed as a method of investigation. Moreover, a whole tradition of studies existed that was dedicated to the scientia de ponderibus, with the aim of analyzing the behavior of balances. But the possible gnoseological value of the mechanical arts in their broader meaning, traditionally denominated also techné and including activities such as, for instance, machine building (mechanical and pneumatic), ship building or hydraulics, was not taken into consideration. This was not because such activities did not exist at that time, but because they did not reveal the challenging issues that required theoretical reconsideration.
During the 16th century, finally, engineers and engineer-scientists became protagonists of a process of abstraction and theoretization that concerned their own disciplines and was based on their own experience. I argue that the 16th-century professional deliberately challenged the dominant classification of sciences of that time and promoted the mechanical arts as a fundamental approach to nature. Supported by historical sources like the first paragraphs of Aristotle’s Mechanical Questions, in which a strong contraposition between nature and techné is professed, the professionals revitalized the ancient visions of the early 13th-century theologians, with the difference however, that the theologians separated theology and natural philosophy (the mechanical arts were mostly ignored), whereas the professionals considered the dichotomy as constituted by natural philosophy (and theology) on one side and mechanical arts on the other. This shift in the meaning of the dichotomy was certainly due to the heredity of the great syntheses between of the Aristotelian doctrines and the Christian theology or, in other terms, it was a fundamental gain of Thomistic philosophy.
The answer of the 16th-century Peripatetic commentators revealed an attempt to conciliate the pseudo-Aristotelian dichotomy with both the mechanical arts and other Aristotelian works, such as Physics and Metaphysics. But toward the end of the century, the positions of the debate were even more radical. The professionals went so far as to declare the arts as winning over (dominating) nature, therefore inverting the old position of the theologians.
On the basis of this reconstruction, the paper aims to show that it is both the practical and theoretical work of the 16th-century engineers that reshaped the concept of nature and the relationship between nature and mechanics. In this way they prepared the ground for the establishment of mechanics as a central theoretical discipline and of the technical-empirical method as central in the scientific practice of the 17th century.
The research makes rich use of 16th-century historical sources, produced by professionals as well as by Aristotelian commentators. The majority of the sources taken into consideration date back to the 16th century and are of Italian origin. Concerning the two-century long process of repositioning natural philosophy toward theology, a large amount of secondary literature will also taken into account and in addition, an analysis of the commentary work of Siger of Brabant and Thomas of Aquinas.

[1] See, e.g., Anthony Terill(us), Fundamentum totius theologiae moralis, Leuven 1669, q. 2, ass. 3, n. 9, p. 9: ”Rationabile autem fundamentum est, inquit [Honoré Fabri], quod ad rationabilem, seu prudentem assensum sufficienter movet, accedente voluntatis imperio.” Idem, q. 8, ass. 2, n. 22: “[N]eque enim ulla alia diversitas est, quam quod motiva aequalia juxta thesim priorem sint dissimilia, & secundum quid singula excedantur a singulis, secundum istam autem supponantur esse similia, & commensurabilia sine excessu.”
[2] Enquête sur l’entendement humain, trad. A. Leroy / M. Beyssade, Paris, GF, 1983, p. 43.
[3] Lettre à Strahan du 26 octobre 1775, Greig, Letters, II, 301.
[4] Enquête sur l’entendement humain, trad. A. Leroy / M. Beyssade, Paris, GF, 1983, p. 243.
[5] Enquête sur l’entendement humain, trad. A. Leroy / M. Beyssade, Paris, GF, 1983, p. 244.
[6] Essays on the Active Powers of Man, K. Haakonssen & J. Harris (ed.), Edinburgh University Press, 2010, p. XV.
[7] P. Wood, “David Hume on Thomas Reid’s An Inquiry into the Human Mind, On the Principles of Common Sense: A Letter to Hugh Blair from July 1762”, Mind, New Series, Vol. 95, No. 380 (Oct., 1986), pp. 411-416.
[8] Lettre de Reid à Hume, 18 mars 1763, An Inquiry into the Human Mind, On the Principles of Common Sense, D. Brookes (ed.), Edinburgh University Press, 2010, p. 264, l. 35-37.
[9] The following three texts make up Hobbes’s side of the exchange: the 1645 ‘Of Liberty and Necessity’ (in EW: 4, 229-278), the 1656 Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity, and Chance (EW: 5), and the 1668 An Answer to Bishop Bramhall (EW: 4, 279-384).