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What Does History Matter to the History of Philosophy?

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AbstractContrary to most modern interpretations, in the early modern period, history was an indispensable resource for many philosophers. The different uses of history by Bacon, Gassendi, Locke, and Hume are explored to establish the role of history as a resource in early-modern philosophy.

1. FN11 The historiography of early-modern philosophy was set out in its definitive version by Kuno Fischer, Geschichte der neueren Philosophie (6 vols., Berlin, 1852–77). Fischer’s approach in fact draws on both Kant and Hegel: see the invaluable account in Thomas E. Willey, Back to Kant: The Revival of Kantianism in German Social and Historical Thought, 1860–1914 (Detroit, 1978). The most problematic aspect of Fisher’s account is his argument that a new dision arises in the seventeenth century between competing and mutually exclusive epistemologies, rationalism and empiricism, the former basing everything on truths of reason, the latter basing everything on experiential truths. On historiographical aspects of the rationalism/empiricism issue, see Louis E. Loeb, From Descartes to Hume (Ithaca, 1981), ch. 1; Bruce Kuklick, ‘Seven Thinkers and How They Grew: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz; Locke, Berkeley, Hume; Kant’, in R. Rorty et al. (eds.), Philosophy in History (Cambridge, 1984), 125–40; and Knud Haakonssen, ‘The History of Eighteenth-Century Philosophy: History or Philosophy?’, in Knud Haakonssen, ed., The Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Philosophy, Volume 2 (Cambridge, 2006), 1–25. On the historiography of philosophy in the period between Descartes and Kant see Giovanni Santinello (gen. ed.), Storia della storie generali della filosofia, Vol. 2: Dall’eta Cartesiana a Brucker (Brescia, 1982).
2. FN22 See Charles H. Lohr, ‘Metaphysics’, in Charles B. Schmitt, Quentin Skinner, and Eckhardt Kessler, eds., The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy (Cambridge, 1988), 537–638.
3. FN33 On what he identifies as the ‘temporalization of history’ in the early modern era, see Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time (Cambridge, Mass., 1985), 21–38.
4. FN44 I draw extensively in this paper on Chapter 12 of my The Collapse of Mechanism and the Rise of Sensibility: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1680–1760 (Oxford, 2010). A much fuller account of many of the issues raised can be found there.
5. FN55 Loys Le Roy, De la vicissitude ou variété des choses en l’univers, et concurrence des armes et des lettres par les premieres et plus illustres nations du monde, depuis le temps où a commencé la civilité, et memoire humain jusques à presente (Paris, 1575), Book 10.
6. FN66 William Gilbert, De mundo nostro sublunari philosophia nova (Amsterdam, 1651), 240.
7. FN77 The Works of Francis Bacon, ed. J. Spedding, R. T. Ellis, and D. D. Heath) (14 vols., London, 1857–74), iii. 566.
8. FN88 Ibid., iii. 563.
9. FN99 For details see the full acount in my The Emergence of a Scientific Culture: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1210–1685 (Oxford, 2005), 262–76, which I draw on here.
10. FN1010 See Bernard Rochot, Les travaux de Gassendi sur Epicure et sur l’atomisme, 1619–1658 (Paris, 1944), 34–41. The meeting is described in Isaac Beeckman, Journal tenu par Isaac Beeckman de 1604 à 1634, ed. Cornelius de Waard (4 vols., The Hague, 1939–53), vol. 3, 123–4.
11. FN1111 The case is made in Lynn Sumida Joy, Gassendi the Atomist: Advocate of History in an Age of Science (Cambridge, 1987), 43.
12. FN1212 See Rochot’s introduction to Pierre Gassendi, Dissertations en forme de paradoxes contre les Aristoteliciens, ed. and trans. Bernard Rochot (Paris, 1959), xi.
13. FN1313 See Gaukroger, The Emergence of a Scientific Culture, ch. 8.
14. FN1414 Locke had 195 travel titles in his library, and Laslett has noted that all but one of the sixteen works quoted in Book I of the fifth edition of the Essay (1705) were from his own collection of travel literature: J. Harrison and P. Laslett, The Library of John Locke (2nd. edn., Oxford, 1971), 27–8.
15. FN1515 See Stephen Gaukroger, ‘The Ten Modes of Aenesidemus and the Myth of Ancient Scepticism,’ British Journal for the History of Philosophy 3 (1995), 371–87.
16. FN1616 See Daniel Carey, Locke, Shaftesbury, and Hutcheson: Contesting Diversity in the Enlightenment and Beyond (Cambridge 2006), ch. 3.
17. FN1717 Locke, Essay, I.iii.9.
18. FN1818 Ibid., I.iv.8.
19. FN1919 Second Treatise, ch. 8. See James Tully, An Approach to Political Philosophy: Locke in Contexts (Cambridge, 1980), ch. 5.
20. FN2020 See Carey, Locke, Shaftesbury, and Hutcheson, 92–7.
21. FN2121 Such inference is to be guided by ‘rules by which to judge of causes and effects’, given in the Treatise, Book I, Part III, sect. xiv.
22. FN2222 Hume, Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1793), i. 111–37.
23. FN2323 See the discussion in John Pocock, Barbarism and Religion (4 vols., Cambridge, 1999–2008), ii. 184–5, and, more generally, 177–98.
24. FN2424 Donald W. Livingston, Philosophical Melancholy and Delirium (Chicago, 1998), 38.
25. FN2525 On Voltaire, see Pocock, Barbarism and Religion, ii. 107.
26. FN2626 Hume, Essays and Treatises, ii. 401–14 (Natural History, Sect. I to III).
27. FN2727 Ibid., ii. 408 (Sect. II).
28. FN2828 Ibid., ii. 428 (Sect. VI).

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Affiliations: 1: University of Sydney/University of


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