Category Archives: History of Philosophy

Why Thomas Reid Matters to the Epistemology of the Social Sciences

L. Jaffro & V. França Freitas (2019). Why Thomas Reid Matters to the Epistemology of the Social Sciences. The Philosophical Quarterly, advance article. https://doi.org/10.1093/pq/pqz031

Little attention has been paid to the fact that Thomas Reid’s epistemology applies to ‘political reasoning’ as well as to various operations of the mind. Reid was interested in identifying the ‘first principles’ of political science as he did with other domains of human knowledge. This raises the question of the extent to which the study of human action falls within the competence of ‘common sense’. Our aim is to reconstruct and assess Reid’s epistemology of the sciences of social action and to determine how it connects with the fundamental tenets of his general epistemology. In the first part, we portray Reid as a methodological individualist and focus on the status of the first principles of political reasoning. The second part examines Reid’s views on the explanatory power of the principles of human action. Finally, we draw a parallel between Reid’s epistemology and the methodology of Weberian sociology.

Locke and Port Royal on Affirmation, Negation, and Other ‘Postures of the Mind’

L. Jaffro (2018). Locke and Port Royal on Affirmation, Negation, and Other ‘Postures of the Mind’. In M. Pécharman and P. Hamou, Locke and Cartesian Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 172-185. https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/oso/9780198815037.001.0001/oso-9780198815037-chapter-11

The chapter claims that in order to understand Locke’s doctrine of assent, his philosophy of mind needs to be seen in conjunction with his philosophy of language, which in turn gains from being compared with Port-Royal’s logic and grammar. It points out two conflicting facts in Locke’s account of affirmation and negation in the Essay. First, Locke entrusts affirmation and negation with the task of signifying both the assertion by which we manifest our assent to a proposition and the junction or separation of the ideas constituting the proposition. The other fact is that Locke accepts a great variety of ways of considering a proposition. This diversity of ‘postures’ is poorly expressed by the limited number of syncategorematic terms, ‘particles’. The first fact fosters a one-act view of the assent we give to propositions. The second opens the way to a multiple-act view.

Psychological and Political Balances: The Third Earl of Shaftesbury’s Reading of James Harrington

L. Jaffro (2018). Psychological and Political Balances: The Third Earl of Shaftesbury’s Reading of James Harrington. In P. Müller (ed.), Shaping Enlightenment Politics. The Social and Political Impact of the First and Third Earls of Shaftesbury. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 149-162.

The chapter investigates why James Harrington’s vocabulary, especially that of ‘balance’ and of ‘interest’, pervades Shaftesbury’s psychological discourse in Characteristicks. It turns out that the Earl’s discreet use of Harrington was not simply a conniving glance at fellow Old Whigs, unhappy with the conversion of Country to Tory, but that it included broader concerns in terms of a philosophical as well as political agenda. Shaftesbury was sensitive to the way in which Harrington revived the ancient analogy between political constitution and the human soul, constitutional balance and psychological temper, thus reconnecting the question of political justice with that of justice in the individual.

The Passions and Actions of Laughter in Shaftesbury and Hutcheson

L. Jaffro (2017). The Passions and Actions of Laughter in Shaftesbury and Hutcheson. In A. Cohen and R. Stern (eds.), Thinking About the Emotions. A Philosophical History. Mind Association Occasional Series, Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2017, 130-149. https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/oso/9780198766858.001.0001/oso-9780198766858-chapter-7

The third Earl of Shaftesbury and Francis Hutcheson considered laughter as a passion in its own right. The hilarious response is not reducible, as Hobbes believed, to the facial expression of the sudden awareness of our own superiority. Ridicule is however an important kind of laughter; it is also an action, part of a strategy against the seriousness of fanaticism. Shaftesbury gives much importance to the politics of laughter and to the caustic power of ridicule, but also to the capacity to laugh at one’s laughter, which is crucial to what he calls good humour. Hutcheson and Shaftesbury interestingly disagree on the question of how to regulate laughter and limit its abuse.

Reid on Aesthetic Response and the Perception of Beauty

L. Jaffro (2015). Reid on Aesthetic Response and the Perception of Beauty. In R. Cophenhaver and T. Burras (eds), Thomas Reid on Mind, Knowledge, and Value. Mind Association Occasional Series, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 124-138. https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198733676.001.0001/acprof-9780198733676-chapter-9

The chapter deals mainly with the ‘Essay on Taste’, situates Reid’s position in the debate opened up by Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, and makes three points: the first about the nature of aesthetic perception; the second about its object, ‘excellence’; and the third about the location of beauty in the forms of nature or works of art, where excellence is expressed. Taste should be viewed as a social operation of the mind. In some cases, it involves a communication from God to human beings. The psychological approach to aesthetic perception must be complemented by a metaphysical account of what makes us feel the beautiful or the grand.

Reid on Powers of the Mind and the Person behind the Curtain

L. Jaffro (2014). Reid on Powers of the Mind and the Person behind the Curtain. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 41, Supplement 1, 197-213. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00455091.2014.897480

According to Thomas Reid, powers of will and powers of understanding are distinguishable in thought, but conjoined in practice. This paper examines the claim that there is no inert intelligence, the operations of the understanding involving some degree of activity. The question is: whose activity? For it is clear that a great deal of our mental activity is not in our power. We need to distinguish between a weak and a strong sense of ‘power’, and consider our dependence ‘upon God and the laws of nature’ in our mental exertions.

Cyrus’ Strategy. Shaftesbury on Human Frailty and the Will

L. Jaffro (2014). Cyrus’ Strategy. Shaftesbury on Human Frailty and the Will. In P. Müller (ed.), New Ages, New Opinions. Shaftesbury in his World and Today. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 153-166. https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01011032/document

In Soliloquy or Advice to an Author (part I, sect. 2), Shaftesbury tells the ‘story of an amour’ in order to illustrate ‘how far a lover by his own natural strength may reach the chief principle of philosophy, and understand our doctrine of two persons in one individual self’. This ten page narrative, which silently draws on Xenophon’s story of Araspas and Pantheia (Cyropaedia, 5. 1 and 6. 1) deserves our attention for several reasons: (a) embodying Shaftesbury’s attempt to convey ancient philosophy to a modern ear, the story is a good instance of the method of teaching philosophy by fables; (b) it explores what may be termed a case of multiple self and thus reveals Shaftesbury’s views on the will and connected issues (the questions how we should construe cases of weakness of will and whether the will is free); (c) it shows the significance, for Shaftesbury, of the Stoic topos of the dangers of ‘admiration’ and of the necessity for beginners of repressing desire and practising ‘aversion’. The aim of this paper is to unfold Shaftesbury’s way of grounding the control of practical choice in the control of ‘opinion’, i.e. of judgement. According to the strongly cognitivist (Socratic) view that Shaftesbury finds in the Roman Stoics, personal integrity, practical rationality, and moral identity are dependent on our ability to respond to truth.

Shaftesbury’s Pathologia. In two parts

Ch. Maurer & L. Jaffro (2013). Reading Shaftesbury’s Pathologia: An Illustration and Defence of the Stoic Account of the Emotions. History of European Ideas, 39(2), 207-220. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01916599.2012.679795

L. Jaffro, Ch. Maurer & A. Petit (2013). Pathologia, A Theory of the Passions. History of European Ideas, 39(2), 221-240. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01916599.2012.679796

The present article is an edition of the Pathologia (1706), a Latin manuscript on the passions by Anthony Ashley Cooper, the third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713). There are two parts, i) an introduction with commentary (http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01916599.2012.679795), and ii) an edition of the Latin text with an English translation (http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01916599.2012.679796) . The Pathologia treats of a series of topics concerning moral psychology, ethics and philology, presenting a reconstruction of the Stoic theory of the emotions that is closely modelled on Cicero and Diogenes Lærtius. It contains a most detailed typology of the passions and affections as well as an analysis of a series of psychological connections, for example between admiration and pride. On the basis of his reconstruction of Stoic moral psychology and ethics, Shaftesbury argues that in one of his phases, Horace should be interpreted as a Stoic rather than as an Epicurean. The translation and the commentary draw attention to the relations between the Pathologia and Shaftesbury’s English writings, most importantly Miscellaneous Reflections and the Inquiry Concerning Virtue, or Merit, which sheds light on several features of Shaftesbury’s relation to Stoicism.

Language and Thought

L. Jaffro (2013). Language and Thought. In J. Harris (ed.); The Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy in the Eighteenth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 128-148.

This chapter set outs the variety of eighteenth-century approaches to the relations between language and thought, beginning with post-Lockean debates focused on the status of abstract general ideas, and ending with anti-empiricist Scottish philosophy at the end of the century (especially Thomas Reid). The empiricist theory of signs, notably in George Berkeley, is one important dimension of the discussions: ‘Ideas’ are centre stage, although they do not exhaust the empiricist furniture of the mind. There is also a different philosophical trend illustrated by neglected figures (James Harris, Lord Monboddo), which may be termed Platonic, and which affects eighteenth-century philosophical conceptions of language. The project of conjectural histories of language (Adam Smith) and views about the connections between linguistic skills and the social nature of human beings are also covered.

John Toland and the Moral Teaching of the Gospel

L. Jaffro (2012). John Toland and the Moral Teaching of the Gospel. In R. Savage (ed.), Philosophy and Religion in Enlightenment Britain. New Case Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 77-89. https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199227044.001.0001/acprof-9780199227044-chapter-5

According to John Toland, the only intelligible content of the Gospel is the commendation of mutual love as a social virtue. The chapter situates this claim in the context of Toland’s rhetorical use of the primitive Church as an authority for a pluralistic account of society, and tries to determine his stance on the question of the foundation of morality. In spite of his constant recourse to the vocabulary of natural law, there is little doubt that Toland does not share Shaftesbury’s Stoic views and that he locates the foundation of morality, not in the providential organization of the universe and its acceptance by a self-cultivating individual, but in the interest of society. The moral teaching of the Gospel is somewhere between Epicureanism, the doctrine of utility, and the nineteenth-century idea of a religion of mankind.

Infinity, Intuition, and the Relativity of Knowledge: Bergson, Carrau, and the Hamiltonians

L. Jaffro (2010). Infinity, Intuition, and the Relativity of Knowledge: Bergson, Carrau, and the Hamiltonians. British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 18(1), 91-112. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09608780903422396

This paper presents a discussion of William Hamilton’s thesis of the relativity of knowledge and of its reception in 19th- and 20th-century French philosophy. Scholars usually claim that Kant’s transcendental philosophy is the main target of Bergson’s rejection of the relativity of knowledge. In contrast, Bergson’s plea for ‘intuition’ as absolute knowledge should be replaced within the context of the long-lasting debates between French spiritualists and the Hamiltonians about the relations of metaphysics with psychology. In the service of this discussion the author locates an important anticipation of Bergson’s philosophy of intuition in the forgotten figure of Ludovic Carrau.