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Reviewed by:
  • Experiment, Speculation, and Religion in Early Modern Philosophy ed. by Alberto Vanzo and Peter R. Anstey
  • Marcus P. Adams
Alberto Vanzo and Peter R. Anstey, editors. Experiment, Speculation, and Religion in Early Modern Philosophy. New York and London: Routledge, 2019. Routledge Studies in Seventeenth-Century Philosophy. Pp. x + 307. Cloth, $140.00.

This edited volume will be of interest to specialists in the history of early modern philosophy and in the history and philosophy of science. It contains ten chapters related to the themes of experimental philosophy, speculative philosophy, and the relationships of both to religion. Most of the book considers these themes in the thought of six early modern philosophers, with a chapter for each of the following: Bacon, Boyle, Cavendish, Hobbes, Locke, and Newton. The remaining chapters focus upon these themes by looking at particular debates or more broadly by considering contexts beyond those of the six aforementioned philosophers. The level of attention to detail by the authors in this book regarding how seventeenth-century actors viewed experimental philosophy and speculative philosophy in local debates and in fine-grained contexts is a contribution to the literature.

Dana Jalobeanu's chapter examines Bacon's polemical history of philosophy alongside his experimental philosophy. She portrays a Bacon who used past works of philosophy to diagnose errors of the mind and as the basis for generating a science of the idols of the mind. She argues that Bacon, as historian of philosophy, could rank-order past philosophies in terms of their degree of "alienation," understood as lacking in a natural-historical basis or method of investigation. Jalobeanu uses this account of Baconian history of philosophy to make sense, for example, of Bacon's claim that Empedocles's doctrine of the four elements was better than Aristotle's (17).

Peter Anstey's chapter focuses on a puzzle about seventeenth-century experimental philosophers: if many of them were opposed to speculative philosophy, why did so many hold a version of the (speculative) corpuscularian hypothesis? Anstey proposes to resolve this worry by arguing that experimental philosophers, with a focus on Boyle but also with attention to the reception of Boyle's views, accorded the corpuscularian hypothesis a special epistemic status because of its intelligibility and its lineage.

A notable feature of the volume is that it includes a chapter devoted to Cavendish's philosophy. Keith Allen's chapter draws upon Cavendish's criticisms of the experimental philosophy, especially her criticisms related to the experimentalists' understanding of color. (Although Cavendish's views of color have not been discussed much in the literature, they are the subject of another recently published paper: see Colin Chamberlain, "Color in a Material World: Margaret Cavendish against the Early Modern Mechanists," Philosophical Review 128 [2019]: 293–36.) Allen's chapter is valuable in tracing the details of Cavendish's realist understanding of color and in situating that account between mechanists and scholastic-Aristotelians. Allen shows how participants in debates concerning the nature of color saw experimental philosophy and speculative philosophy as mutually informing one another.

Tom Sorell's chapter draws attention to Hobbes's appeals to experience within the science of politics. Hobbes famously declared his politics to be a science because in it humans make the objects under consideration. He analogized making in politics to making in geometry, where humans make the figures. Given Hobbes's bifurcation [End Page 817] between demonstrative "science" on the one hand and "sense and memory" on the other, it is surprising for him to include appeals to experience in the science of politics. Sorell diagnoses this apparent inconsistency by drawing attention to Hobbes's rhetorical aim for his science of politics: Hobbes joins a demonstration in politics with a need to persuade subjects to obey their sovereign.

Since this is an edited volume, it was only possible to discuss some of the chapters in this review. In the remaining chapters, two devoted to Newton's thought will be of particular interest to specialists in the history and philosophy of science: a chapter on optical hypotheses in Newton by Kirsten Walsh and one on Newton's rejection of hypotheses by Catherine Wilson. Overall, this book is well conceived and accomplishes its goal...


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