Category Archives: History of Philosophy

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.

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.

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.

Shaftesbury on the ‘Natural Secretion’ and Philosophical Personae

L. Jaffro (2008). Shaftesbury on the ‘Natural Secretion’ and Philosophical Personae. Intellectual History Review, 18(3), 349-359.

The third Earl of Shaftesbury devoted a great deal of effort, both theoretical and practical, to improving and controlling his personae, whether philosophical, literary or social. Far from being only a matter of rhetorical strategy, the meticulous care with which he made use of those masks makes sense within a conception of philosophy in the ancient fashion that includes the cultivation of oneself at its core. According to the perfectionist ethics of which Shaftesbury found a paradigm in the Roman Stoics, the task of self-fashioning was an essential ingredient of the education of the philosopher. Following Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, Shaftesbury referred to it as prokopê (self-improvement). Shaping a philosophical self necessarily involves creating personae, at least two: one that suits the needs of the apprentice and is fitted for keeping the askêsis away from prying eyes, and another one (or possibly a full set of personae, in accordance with the various literary genres that may be adopted to that end) to which the mature philosopher – the writer – has recourse when he teaches or, as Shaftesbury puts it, ‘gives advice’ to the reader.

Which Platonism for Which Modernity? Shaftesbury’s Socratic ‘Sea-Cards’

L. Jaffro (2008). Which Platonism for Which Modernity? Shaftesbury’s Socratic ‘Sea-Cards’. In S. Hutton and D. Hedley (eds), Platonism at the Origins of Modernity : Studies on Platonism and Early Modern Philosophy. International Archives in the History of Ideas, Dordrecht: Springer, 255-267.

The so-called Platonism of Shaftesbury is mainly a reconstruction through which commentators claim to understand Shaftesbury better than he understood himself. For he used to view himself as a disciple of Socrates; in his opinion being a disciple of Socrates meant that he was not a Platonist but a Stoic, insofar as the Stoics drew the ultimate consequences of the Socratic idea of virtue as knowledge. The chapter reconsiders Shaftesbury’s relationship to ancient philosophy by drawing unpublished manuscripts, especially his Design of a Socratic History.

What is Wrong With Reid’s Criticism of Hume on Moral Appreciation

L. Jaffro (2006). What is Wrong With Reid’s Criticism of Hume on Moral Appreciation? European Journal of Analytic Philosophy, 2(2), 11-26.

In his Essays on the Active Powers, Thomas Reid criticises Hume’s theory of moral judgment and argues that it is untenable. The aim of this paper is to show that Reid shares more with his target than is ordinarily acknowledged. The author suggests that the opposition between cognitivism and non-cognitivism concerning the role of feelings in moral judgment tends to obscure (disputable) assumptions held in common by both philosophers about the nature of feelings.

Shaftesbury on the Cogito. An Intermediary between Gassendism and the Common Sense School

L. Jaffro, Shaftesbury on the Cogito. An Intermediary between Gassendism and the Common Sense School. In G. Carabelli and P. Zanardi (eds.), Nuovi saggi su Shaftesbury. Padova: Il Poligrafo, 2003, 111-125.

Shaftesbury’ fourth Miscellany (1711) starts with a brief criticism of Descartes’ cogito. He rejects the modern metaphysical account of ‘egoity’ in the name of the ancient Stoic conception of a moral discipline of the self.  We do not need the metaphysical certitude of cogito sum as a foundation stone, nor any ‘wonderfully refined speculations’ on the nature of the ego; on the contrary, the ordinary and pre-philosophical experience of my own existence as a subject is ‘sufficient ground for a moralist’.