Talks by Anik Waldow and Deborah Brown

Date: 17 October 2019
Time: 2pm to 5pm
Venue: Philosophy Meeting Room (AS3-05-23)

2pm – 3.30pm
Condillac on Being Human: Control and Reflection Reconsidered by Anik Waldow

Why do humans have reason, while animals do not? This question has long been answered by claiming that humans have rational souls, and because of this, an innate faculty of reason. Condillac breaks with this tradition by arguing that humans start to develop reason at precisely the moment at which they discover signs and learn to control their thoughts. Commentators like Hans Aarsleff and Charles Taylor believe that the discovery of signs is enabled through the presence of a special human capacity: the capacity to reflectively relate to what is given in experience. The problem with this interpretation is that it returns Condillac to a form of innatism from which he was keen to escape, for it assumes that human minds are reflective as a consequence of their original endowments. This paper sets out to offer an alternative interpretation that does not fall prey to the charge of innatism. It argues that for Condillac the capacity to reflect is not simply given, but arises as a result of contingent circumstances encountered in one’s experiences with others. This interpretation not only does justice to Condillac’s sustained effort to conceive of humans from the point of view of their embodied existence that, like in the case of other animals, is shaped by their interactions with the world. It also explains why many French enlightenment authors, who were inspired by Condillac, defended the claim that the cultivation of reason requires a Lockean programme of experiential learning.

About the Speaker:
Anik Waldow is Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Sydney. She mainly works in early modern philosophy and has published articles on the moral and cognitive function of sympathy, early modern theories of personal identity and the role of affect in the formation of the self, skepticism and associationist theories of thought and language. She is the author of Hume and the Problem of Other Minds (Continuum 2009) and Experience Embodied: Early Modern Accounts of the Human Place in Nature (OUP 2020).

3.30pm – 5pm

There is a common misconception that Descartes denies all agency of bodies—a conflation of the inertial and the inert—relegating all agency in the universe either to God alone (as occasionalists suppose) or to God and minds. Textually and conceptually, this is incorrect. Here, we will explore the kind of agency Descartes ascribes to bodies and how it sits with other core notions of his physics, such as that of motion, rest and force (conatus). The indirect exchange between Descartes and Hobbes over the nature of force reveals much about the kind of reductionist program in which each is engaged. It will be argued that if Descartes’ notion is unsatisfying for being primitive, Hobbes’ rests on the problematic idea of an infinitesimal motion, which would struggle to make sense of what happens when the contest of forces reaches stalemate.

About the Speaker:
Deborah Brown is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the UQ Critical Thinking Project at the University of Queensland. She is the author of Descartes and the Passionate Mind (Cambridge, 2006) and co-author of Descartes and the Ontology of Everyday Life (Oxford, 2019), as well as numerous articles on figures in Early Modern Philosophy.



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