‘Heads Cast in Metaphysical Moulds’ Damaris Masham on the Method and Nature of Metaphysics

In Emily Thomas (ed.), Early Modern Women on Metaphysics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 9-27 (2018)
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In this chapter, first we will provide a brief discussion of part of the larger debates concerning metaphysics and attempt to place Masham alongside her friend John Locke in holding that the subject matter of metaphysics is usually either strictly the providence of revelation or is beyond human understanding. Next, we will explore Masham’s criticisms of Norris, Malebranche, and Leibniz to see how these views inform her objections. Here, it will become clear that Masham eschews metaphysics as an a priori investigation into supernatural causes and spirits. She argues that not only do we lack positive evidence for the truth of these metaphysical hypotheses, but we have good reason – from experience and revelation – to believe them false. Finally, we will turn briefly to some of Masham’s positive views concerning the existence and nature of God, the nature of substances, and human freedom. Here, we will see that while Masham does not approve of metaphysical theses that seemingly conflict with our experience of the world, we can know some things about the nature of God and ourselves through experience and reason. This leaves room for Masham to engage in a fair amount of what we would currently consider metaphysical discourse.

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Marcy P. Lascano
University of Kansas


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