Margaret Cavendish's Metaphysics

My current project (FWO Postdoctoral Mandate #12V1418N) is on Margaret Cavendish's metaphysics. I am especially interested in her notions of substance, her rejection of accidents, her anti-atomism, her doctrine of complete blending, and her theory of causation.


"The Life of the Thrice Sensitive, Rational and Wise Animate Matter: Cavendish's Animism," forthcoming in HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science, doi:10.1086/715872

Abstract: This paper explores Cavendish’s argument for what she calls animate matter. Her commitment to the ubiquity of animate matter, styled Cavendish’s animism, is presented as the conclusion of an inference to the best explanation of nature’s order. The reconstruction of Cavendish’s argument begins with an examination of the relationship between God’s creation of our world and the order produced through nature’s wise governance of her parts. Cavendish’s materialism and anti-atomism are presented as ingredients in Cavendish’s final account of God’s ordering of the world by making it a self-moving whole. On the present account of Cavendish’s metaphysics, this self-moving whole then freely produces the regular motions that constitute its ordering of itself, as a distinct ordering beyond God’s initial act of creating our world. The depth of Cavendish's commitment to the animistic elements of her materialism, or in other words the extent to which her system is genuinely animistic, is then considered.

"Part of Nature and Division in Margaret Cavendish's Materialism," Synthese, vol. 196 (2019), 3551-3575, doi:10.1007/s11229-017-1326-y

Abstract: This paper pursues a question about the spatial relations between the three types of matter posited in Margaret Cavendish's metaphysics. It examines the doctrine of complete blending and a distinctive argument against atomism, looking for grounds on which Cavendish can reject the existence of spatial regions composed of only one or two types of matter. It establishes, through that examination, that Cavendish operates with a causal conception of parts of nature and a dynamic notion of division. While the possibility of unmixed spatial regions is found to be consistent with both the doctrine of complete blending and Cavendish's anti-atomism by themselves, it is finally ruled out by a consideration of her theory of place. In fact, the geometrical question of the spatial relations between types of matter that drives the paper is ultimately exposed as illicitly mathematical from the perspective of Cavendish's metaphysics.

A two-part Spanish translation of the above paper by Jorge Rafael Abuchedid is available as "Parte de la naturaleza y división en el materialismo de Margaret Cavendish" at his website, Tras la Palabra. Links: Part 1. Part 2.

Book Reviews:

“Margaret Cavendish, Grounds of Natural Philosophy, edited by Anne M. Thell," Tijdschrift voor Filosofie (in press)

“Margaret Cavendish: Essential Writings,” Important Volume Book Review, Tijdschrift voor Filosofie, vol. 82, 574-576

"The Well-Ordered Universe: The Philosophy of Margaret Cavendish," Essay Review, Annals of Science, vol. 76, 340-346, doi:10.1080/00033790.2019.1624824


"Comments on Cavendish by David Cunning," Book Symposium, Pacific APA, Seattle, April 2017 (.pdf)

Abstract: My comments focus on Cunning's account of Cavendish as a mind-body interactionist. I argue that the question of mind-body interaction for Cavendish is really a question of how animate matter moves inanimate matter, and indicate two options for answering the latter question that Cavendish's texts suggest.

Causal Explanation and Metaphysical Explanation

My research program on explanation combines philosophy of language, metaphysics, and philosophy of science. My publications focus on the meanings of explanatory terminology (especially 'because') in sentences expressing putatively distinct kinds of explanations.


"How General Can Theories of ‘Why’ and ‘Because’ Be?" forthcoming in Inquiry, doi:10.1080/0020174X.2020.1822912

Abstract: This paper explores a taxonomy of uses of ‘because’ from the linguistics literature. It traces the apparent semantic differences between content, epistemic, and act ‘because’ to differences in attachment height. But it argues that the fact that these uses of ‘because’ never occur in the same environments is evidence of an underlying semantic unity. Arguments from such a distribution to underlying unity are familiar from phonology and morphology, and they are implicit in Quine’s comments on ambiguity in Word and Object, but they have too rarely been deployed in semantics. Here, such an argument points the way towards an underexplored conception of polysemy, while also making progress on the rather more limited topic of the lexical semantics of ‘because’.

"Ambiguity and Explanation," Inquiry, vol. 60 (2017), 839-866, doi:10.1080/0020174X.2016.1175379

Abstract: This paper presents evidence that ‘because’ is importantly ambiguous between two closely related senses covering what are usually called causal explanations, on the one hand, and grounding or metaphysical explanations, on the other hand. To this end, it introduces the lexical categories of monosemy, polysemy and homonymy; describes a test for polysemy; and discusses the results of the test when applied to ‘because’. It also shows how to understand so-called hybrid explanations in light of the semantic facts established by the analysis.

"The Causal Metaphor Account of Metaphysical Explanation," Philosophical Studies, vol. 174 (2017), 553-578, doi:10.1007/s11098-016-0696-1

Abstract: This paper argues that the semantic facts about ‘because’ are best explained via a metaphorical treatment of metaphysical explanation that treats causal explanation as explanation par excellence. Along the way, it defends a commitment to a unified causal sense of ‘because’ and offers a proprietary explanation of grounding skepticism. With the causal metaphor account of metaphysical explanation on the table, an extended discussion of the relationship between conceptual structure and metaphysics ends with a suggestion that the semantic facts about ‘because’ tell against grounding-causation unity.

Other Publications

Jonathan L. Shaheen (2019), "The Communitarian Wittgenstein and Brandom’s Hegel on Recognition and Social Constitution" in Jakub Mácha and Alexander Bergs (eds.), Wittgenstein and Hegel: Reevaluation of Difference, De Gruyter, 103-118, doi:10.1515/9783110572780-010

Jonathan L. Shaheen (2018), "Reading Hegel Anti-Metaphysically," Commentary, Australasian Philosophical Review, vol. 2, 433-439, doi:10.1080/24740500.2018.1698102

Jonathan L. Shaheen (2011), "Hegel, Humility, and the Possibility of Intrinsic Properties," Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain, vol. 63, 100-117, doi:10.1017/S0263523200000185 [NB: I own the copyright to this paper. Here is a .pdf.]

Abstract: Rae Langton (1998) offers a non-idealist interpretation of Kantian things in themselves according to which we have no knowledge of things in themselves – the intrinsic nature of things – just because our epistemic access to things is via their relational, non-intrinsic properties. Whatever the merits of her account as an interpretation of Kant's metaphysics, its plausibility presupposes the coherence of her notion of intrinsic properties. According to the account of intrinsic properties Langton uses, as we will see, there are only intrinsic properties if certain worlds are possible. Allais (2006) attacks one half of the modal intuitions on which Langton relies, but is adequately rebutted by Langton (2006). This paper discusses another, far more radical critique of the other half of the modal intuitions underlying Langton's account of intrinsic properties, intuitions which are also the basis of Langton and Lewis' (1998) account of the same. The account of intrinsicness under fire here depends on the possibility of objects existing alone in worlds in which no other objects (not counting their parts) exist. But according to Hegel's Logik, such worlds are simply not possible. To develop this critique, we cast a broad net by linking Langton (1998) with Lewis (2009) and Langton and Lewis (1998), and then consider (in a necessarily limited fashion) claims from the 1832, Lehre vom Sein in Hegel's Wissenschaft der Logik, which we consult in the edition of Hegel (2008). The primary aim of this paper is to offer a clear model of the modal error which Hegel purports to identify, and to show its application to Langton's work.

Valerie Kivelson and Jonathan Shaheen (2011), "Prosaic Witchcraft and Semiotic Totalitarianism: Muscovite Magic Reconsidered," Slavic Review, vol. 70, 23-44, doi:10.5612/slavicreview.70.1.0023 [NB: Slavic Review lists authors alphabetically.]

Abstract: Studies of witchcraft belief and persecution in Russia have been profoundly, and to a significant degree mistakenly, shaped by European understandings of witchcraft as fundamentally demonic and integrally linked to the power of the devil. Gary Morson and Caryl Emerson’s concepts of “prosaics” and “semiotic totalitarianism,” derived from their readings of M. M. Bakhtin, offer a productive way to set imported preconceptions aside and to comprehend the specificities of Muscovite witchcraft beliefs. Pre-Petrine ideas about witchcraft conformed to no uniform, overarching ideological or explanatory schema, satanic or otherwise. Muscovite witchcraft operated instead as a diffuse, resolutely prosaic collection of beliefs and practices, whereas the more demonologically inflected European beliefs approached the imposed uniformity of “semiotic totalitarianism.” In this article, Valerie Kivelson and Jonathan Shaheen propose a corrective to a widespread propensity for reading Russian material through European paradigms and analyze Russian beliefs on their own, prosaic terms.