Journal of Early Modern Studies, Volume 5, Issue 2 (Fall 2016)





JUSTIN E. H. SMITH (Université Paris Diderot – Paris 7), What Is a World? Deception, Possibility, and the Uses of Fiction from Cervantes to Descartes

  • Abstract: In this short essay I will aim to show that literary fiction is consistently at the vanguard of the exploration of philosophical problems relating to the concept of world, while what we think of as philosophy, in the narrower sense, typically arrives late on the scene, picking up themes that have already been explored in literary texts that are explicitly intended as exercises of the imagination. I will pursue this argument with a sustained investigation of the shared aims and methods of Miguel de Cervantes and René Descartes.

ANDREAS BLANK (Bard College Berlin), Striving Possibles and Leibniz’s Cognitivist Theory of Volition

  • Abstract: Leibniz’s claim that possibles strive towards existence has led to diverging interpretations. According to the metaphorical interpretation, only the divine will is causally efficacious in bringing possibles into exisence. According to the literal interpretation, God endows possibles with causal powers of their own. The present article suggests a solution to this interpretative impass by suggesting that the doctrine of the striving possibles can be understood as a consequence of Leibniz’s early cognitivist theory of volition. According to this theory, thinking the degree of goodness of something is identical with wanting it to this degree. Arguably, this analysis of volition is relevant not only for Leibniz’s early analysis of the human mind but also for his early analysis of the divine mind.

OHAD NACHTOMY (Bar-Ilan University), Leibniz, Calvino, Possible Worlds and Possible Cities, Philosophy and Fiction

  • Abstract: Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities presents a wide array of possible cities—cities whose composition turns on a productive ambiguity of their being described or invented by Marco Polo in his conversations with Kublai Khan. Implicit in this book is also a theory about how all possible cities are composed. The method turns on decomposing a city down to its basic elements and recomposing it in different ways through the imagination. I argue that there is a close affinity between Calvino’s theory of fictional cities and Leibniz’s theory of possible worlds. The main similarity is that both theories are combinatorial—they suppose that possibilities are produced by combination and variation of basic elements. The paper presents Leibniz’s theory of possibility in its metaphysical context and explores the similarity (as well as some differences) with Calvino’s cities in their literary context. I suggest that there is a rather strong relation between the theory of literary fiction implicit in Invisible Cities and Leibniz’s theory of possibility, in that both define the possible in terms of the conceivable. Indeed, Leibniz often refers to literary examples to substantiate his position, and I argue that this reveals an essential feature of his theory.

JOSEPH ANDERSON (Central Michigan University), Cartesian Privations: How Pierre-Sylvain Régis Used Material Causation to Provide a Cartesian Account of Sin

  • Abstract: Descartes’s very brief explanations of human responsibility for sin and divine innocence of sin include references to the idea that evil is a privation rather than a real thing. It is not obvious, though, that privation fits naturally in Descartes’s reductionistic metaphysics, nor is it clear precisely what role his privation doctrine plays in his theodicy. These issues are made clear by contrasting Descartes’s use of privations with that of Suarez, particularly in light of reoccurring objections to privation theory. These objections have no weight against Suarez’s use of privations, but Descartes’s mentions of privation are so few that it is not clear how his account avoids their consequences. Descartes’s brevity seems to have motivated some of his followers to develop creative accounts of the way in which privation fits in a Cartesian system. Pierre-Sylvain Régis accomplishes this task by reintroducing material causation. Régis holds that moral evil has no efficient cause since an efficient cause can only produce something real. Because he holds that moral evil can have a material cause, he is able to affirm that the soul is morally responsible for sin. In Régis’s case, accommodating this theological issue meant reincorporating Aristotelian resources into his Cartesian system.

ANDREA SANGIACOMO (University of Groningen), Spinoza et les problèmes du corps dans l’histoire de la critique. Essai bibliographique (1924-2015)

  • Abstract: This bibliographical essay reconstructs the scholarly debate concerning Spinoza’s account of the body over the last ninety years. The paper focuses on the notion of body considered only from a physical point of view (without relationship to the mind). Questions concerning the ontological status of bodies (both simplest bodies and complex individuals), the nature of their essence, their power of operating, or the sources of Spinoza’s views have originated a long-standing discussion. This reconstruction presents the main solutions developed so far, and pinpoints the still understudied areas in the field.


ILARIA COLUCCIA (Università del Salento), Descartes et la scolastique sur la fausseté matérielle: perspectives sur les études récentes


JULIETTE FERDINAND (ed.), From Art to Science. Experiencing Nature in the European Garden 1500-1700, Treviso: ZeL Edizioni, 2016 (Fabrizio Baldassarri)

YITZHAK Y. MELAMED (ed.), The Young Spinoza: A Metaphysician in the Making, Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2015 (S. T. Schifano)


ISSN: 2285-6382 (paperback)
ISSN: 2286–0290 (electronic)


The publication of this issue is supported by two grants of the Romanian National Authority for Scientific Research, CNCS-UEFISCDI, project numbers: PN-II-ID-PCE-2011-3-0998: Models of Producing and Disseminating Knowledge in Early Modern Europe: the Cartesian Framework; PN-II-RU-TE-2014-4-1776: An Intellectual History of the Imagination: Bridging Literature, Philosophy and Science in Early Modern and Enlightenment England.

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