Materialism and the Activity of Matter in Seventeenth‐Century European Philosophy

Philosophy Compass 11 (11):671-680 (2016)
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Early modern debates about the nature of matter interacted with debates about whether matter could think. In particular, some philosophers (e.g., Cudworth and Leibniz) objected to materialism about the human mind on the grounds that matter is passive, thinking things are active, and one cannot make an active thing out of passive material. This paper begins by looking at two seventeenth-century materialist views (Hobbes’s, and one suggested but not endorsed by Locke) before considering that objection (which I call here the Activity Argument). In discussion, I note that several philosophers of the time believed that matter was active. That view opens up a possible response to the Activity Argument. The paper concludes by looking at the views of two materialists of the time who also believed that matter was active, Toland and Cavendish.
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First archival date: 2016-02-28
Latest version: 2 (2016-05-23)
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