“Cosmopolitanism in Early Modern European Philosophy”
Kobe University, November 11
Abstract. How did early modern philosophers conceptualize the nature of human diversity? Or, to put this question differently, to what extent did they think of the human species as constituting a unity? As is well known, this question was the engine of a great deal of philosophical reflection, beginning in the 16th century as a result of increased contact between continents, and especially between Europe and the Americas. This contact, in turn, generated serious conceptual problems: how can we decide between competing systems of rationality or morality? What are the neutral grounds on which differences between such systems can be judged without recourse to the standards of reason or moral principles on offer within these systems? One approach, characteristic of a philosopher such as Descartes, was simply to retreat into an implicit Eurocentrism that did not even acknowledge the problem of competing standards between cultures. Another approach, in evidence in thinkers as different from one another as Montaigne and Leibniz, is to take the comparative project seriously, and to conceptualize truth as a sort of product of the comparative endeavor itself. In this talk I would like to discuss a few such thinkers, focusing in particular upon Leibniz's 1714 text, Discourse on the Natural Theology of the Chinese, to offer a picture of an emerging cosmopolitanism in the early modern period, which had not just important implications for reflections on global international relations and tolerance, but also on developing ideas about the nature of truth and rationality.
“Lunar Astronomy and Philosophy from Plutarch to Kepler”
Kyoto University, November 12
Abstract. Why did so many philosophers in antiquity and the early modern period deploy thought experiments involving the moon? What were their systematic and conceptual ends in this exercise? In ancient astronomy, the moon served as an important boundary between two very different domains of nature, sometimes called the 'superlunar' and the 'sublunar' (or the 'celestial' and the 'terrestrial'), which were subject to very different laws, not least the laws of generation, corruption, and motion. The moon was also presumed, unlike the higher celestial bodies, to be in at least some traffic with the earth, with elements, and perhaps also beings, presumed to travel back and forth. So to which side of the boundary did the moon itself belong? In this talk, I would like to argue that it was precisely this question that made the moon a fertile source of Gedankenexperimente. From the utopian political subtexts of lunar science fiction of such authors as Cyrano de Bergerac, to the arguments for relativity in Johannes Kepler's Somnium, the moon facilitated the conceptualization of models of reality that could not be nearly so easily constructed on earth. Thus people were effectively going into outer space, in the name of advancing theoretical understanding, long before such a feat was actually technically possible. The way such thought experiments proceed, and what their real utility and pay-off are, may be important, I shall argue, for our understanding of the method of science more generally.
“Leibniz on the Theology of Mechanism”
Conference of the Societas Leibnitiana Japonica
16 November, Keio University, Tokyo
In the 17th century there was widespread concern that the 'new philosophy' had effectively rendered God otiose, had turned him into a mere Deus absconditus who sets the clockwork of the world into motion and then departs. On a certain understanding, no philosopher would seem to justify this concern more than Leibniz, with his doctrine of preestablished harmony. At the same time, however, no early modern philosopher is as concerned as Leibniz to reveal the divine character of the order of the natural world, and nowhere does this character come forth more clearly than in his model of the infinite structure of organic bodies, which is to say, in his own terms, of 'divine machines'. In this talk I would like, first of all, to trace the development of the concept of divine machine in Leibniz's philosophy, and, second of all, to argue that properly understood this concept may be seen as the result of Leibniz's effort to provide the mechanical philosophy with a proper theological grounding.