- The Dictionary of Seventeenth-Century British Philosophers
The history of modern philosophy is flourishing. More scholars are producing excellent works in this area than ever before. A large part of this health is due to scholars whose primary training is not in philosophy, such as historians of political thought or literature (hereafter: historians). The dictionary being reviewed here is a case in point, a production of more than ninety scholars of whom the overwhelming majority are not formally trained philosophers.
The dictionary consists of about 400 entries, alphabetically from Isaac Abendana (d. 1699) to Richard Zouche (1590-1661) and chronologically from John Case and Richard Hooker, both of whom died in 1600, to Richard Mead (1673-1754). As this list indicates, the general editor construed "philosopher" very broadly, too broadly, I think. There should be no objection to including scientists like Robert Boyle and Newton, theologians like William Chillingsworth and Henry Hammond, and poets like Andrew Marvell and John Milton, each of whom wrote some works with philosophical import. But Ralph Bathurst, a physician, comes no closer to being a philosopher than being "an early admirer of Hobbes's scientific work and [having] contributed some enthusiastic Latin verses to the latter's Humane Nature (1650)" (75a). Likewise Richard Barckley (fl. 1598), about whose life virtually "[n]othing is known" and whose sole book may be described as consisting of "meatpies stuffed with commonplaces"—Montaigne's phrase—does not deserve inclusion (55a, 56a). (Jill Kraye, the author of the article, serves Barckley very well.)
Ramist logicians "are largely excluded . . . [because] they tended to assimilate logic to rhetoric and to limit it to the orderly exposition of what is already known" (p. x). Nonetheless, it is unfortunate, I think, that Abraham Fraunce (c. 1558-1633) and George Downham (d. 1634) are not included.
The best articles tend to be about the best philosophers of the age: Thomas Hobbes and John Locke by G. A. J. Rogers, Shaftesbury by David McNaughton, and Francis Bacon by Graham Rees (who pointedly observed about Historia ventorum that "Bacon accomplished the considerable feat of making the weather boring" [41b]). Although by quality of thought and influence, each of these warrant longer treatment, the editor was right to restrict their length to a modest six or seven pages, the same length as those about William Ames, William Harvey, Bernard Mandeville, and John Toland. There are plenty of other places to go for information about the great philosophers. What we want and what the Dictionary provides are articles about the obscure philosophers.
Some of the other especially well wrought articles are those on Richard Baxter by William Lamont, Walter Charleton by Margaret J. Osler, Joseph Glanvill by Richard Popkin, John Hales by Victor Nuovo, John Wilkins by John Henry, and Thomas White by Beverley Southgate.
The editor is not nationalistic in his understanding of "British." Scots who spent their academic career on the Continent are included. Also included are the Czech John Comenius (1592-1670), the Dutchman Franciscus Mercurius van [End Page 598] Helmont (1614-98), and the Venetian Marc Antonio De Dominis (1560-1624), as they should, because of their influence on British thought or sometime residence. By the same token, Hugo Grotius should have an entry; but he does not.
An average of two pages each is devoted to six women, Mary Astell, Catherine Cockburn, Ann Conway, Margaret Cavendish, Jane Lead, and Damaris Cudworth Masham. They deserve more space, especially Cavendish, whose The World's Olio (1655) includes a utopian scheme.
Some other articles that I wish had been longer include those about John Bramhall, Richard Crackanthorpe, William Davenant, and John Eacherd, each roughly two pages. Although the proportional space allotted to a thinker is generally right, I think some figures should not have been included at all. John Flavel (1596-1617) does not deserve even the 3 column inches devoted to him. Better to have assigned those inches to someone else. None of the remaining articles should be shorter than they are, not even the five pages devoted...