Observations on Early Moderns

Leibniz and Berkeley both seem to me to be absolutely right in most of their critiques of Locke, taken simply as critiques. Even Berkeley’s bold claim that matter doesn’t exist, if we limit “matter” to what Locke and his contemporaries thought “matter” was, now seems to be basically true. Their alternative systems, however, contain significant crackpot elements. The sheer amount of work “God” has to do in each should have tipped them off that they were cheating.

Looking at the index of Process and Reality, I see that Whitehead makes copious references to Locke and Hume, but only a few to Leibniz and Berkeley — despite the fact that his system seems to bear more resemblance to the latter. In fact, for all Whitehead’s love of Locke, it is difficult for me to discern the relationship between the two. So why the insistence on Locke and Hume? Is it a “political” move, to try to convince his logical positivist friends that he’s working out of the modern tradition? If so, it didn’t work.

Spinoza seems to me to be miles ahead of any of these guys. I’m not ready to sign on and become a Spinozan, but he’s clearly the true radical.

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3 Responses to “Observations on Early Moderns”

  1. Steven Shaviro Says:

    Partly it’s the way that Whitehead reads Locke and Hume. Whitehead credits Locke, just as he credits Plato, with making major metaphysical discoveries; but in both cases, these discoveries are the result of incoherences — they occur at the moments when these thinkers, in effect, contradict their own systems. As for Hume, Whitehead credits him with being the most insightful thinker in early modern (or Enlightenment, or scientific-revolution) thought, and therefore to be the one who most powerfully reveals the untenable consequences and dead-ends of that thought.

    Whitehead says almost nothing about Berkeley, as far as I can recall. He explicitly states his closeness to both Leibniz and Spinoza, but doesn’t go into much detail about this, aside from trying to distinguish his notion of God from either of theirs.

  2. Adam Says:

    Thank you — that was exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for when I asked the Whitehead question.

  3. Mikhail Emelianov Says:

    The sheer amount of work “God” has to do in each should have tipped them off that they were cheating.

    not sure if “God” has much to do in Leibniz after He’s done “pre-establishing” the “harmony” – it seems to me that Leibniz could be closer to Spinoza in this way as being a facilitator of a certain kind of deism. wasn’t it his whole disagreement with Malebranche and the amount of work “God” has to do in that type of occasionalism?

    where Leibniz does seem to be cheating is his laborious response to Bayle in Theodicy where, after all is said and done, one just have to accept that whatever one thinks about the reason for “evil” and “sin” – that’s just how it’s suppose to be because “God” could only create the best of possible world – in that sense one just has to have a kind of “philosophical faith” that it all makes sense on the larger-than-human level, in the “big picture” if you will.

    vis-a-vis Berkeley, it’s been a while since i look at him, but again with Leibniz and monads as constituting substances, wouldn’t one say there is no “matter” as such in Leibniz as well?


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