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What Kind of Monist is Anne Finch Conway?

  • JESSICA GORDON-ROTH (a1)

Abstract

One of the most basic questions an ontology can address is: How many things, or substances, are there? A monist will say, ‘just one’. But there are different stripes of monism, and where the borders between these different views lie rests on the question, ‘To what does this “oneness” apply?’ Some monists apply ‘oneness’ to existence. Others apply ‘oneness’ to types. Determining whether a philosopher is a monist and deciphering what this is supposed to mean is no easy task, especially when it comes to those writing in the early modern period because many philosophers of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries include God in their ontologies. In The Principles, Anne Finch Conway offers an ontology that is often described as being both ‘vitalist’ and ‘monist’. I take this to mean that, for Conway, all that exists is in some way alive and that if asked ‘How many things, or substances, are there?’ Conway would say, ‘Just one’. But to what does this ‘oneness’ apply? And where does the point of disagreement between Conway and her interlocutors, Hobbes, Spinoza, More, and Descartes lie? In this paper, I argue that determining the answer to this first question turns out to be quite difficult. Nevertheless, we can still make sense of the second.

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Copyright

Footnotes

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This article is the first in a special series of commissioned articles on women in the history of philosophy. Future articles in this series will appear in later issues.

I am grateful to Nancy Kendrick, Gina Luria Walker, Bennett McNulty, John Grey, Stewart Duncan, Geoffrey Gorham, Jonathan Cottrell, David Taylor, Justin E. H. Smith, Sarah Hutton, Marcy Lascano, Alan Gabbey, Christia Mercer, Andrew Arlig, Lauren Mancia, Justin Steinberg, Margaret Atherton, John Whipple, students in my fall 2017 course on Conway (especially Heather Johnson and Tucker Marks), those in the CUNY Junior Faculty Research Group, the New York City Workshop in Early Modern Philosophy, and those in the Philosophy Department at Wayne State University for helpful feedback and support as this project developed. I am also grateful to the anonymous referees and the editorial team at the Journal of the American Philosophical Association for helping me improve this paper. Finally, I am especially grateful to Rachel McKinney, who invited me to comment on Christia Mercer's paper, ‘Feeling Our Way to Truth: Women, Reason, and the Real Story About Early Modern Rationalism’, as part of the Sue Weinberg lecture series at the CUNY Graduate Center in 2014, as this is what prompted me to start thinking more seriously about Conway in the first place.

Footnotes

References

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Boyle, Deborah. (2006) ‘Spontaneous and Sexual Generation in Conway's Principles’. In Smith, Justin E. H. (ed.), The Problem of Animal Generation in Early Modern Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 175–94.
Broad, Jacqueline. (2002) Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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Conway, Anne. (1690) Principia philosophiae antiquissimae et recentissimae de Deo, Christo et Creatura id est de materia et spiritu in genere. Amsterdam.
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Mercer, Christia. (2015) ‘Seventeenth-Century Universal Sympathy: Stoicism, Platonism, Leibniz, and Conway’. In Schliesser, Eric (ed.), Sympathy: A History (New York: Oxford University Press), 107138.
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O'Neill, Eileen. (1998) ‘Disappearing Ink: Early Modern Women Philosophers and their Fate in History’. In Kourany, J. A. (ed.), Philosophy in a Feminist Voice: Critiques and Reconstructions (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 1762.
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Thomas, Emily. (2017) ‘Time, Space, and Process in Anne Conway’. British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 25, 5.
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Journal of the American Philosophical Association
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