Bucharest Princeton Seminar 2007

Experiments, reason and revelation: the moral value of studying nature in Early Modernity

28th of July- 3rd of August 2007

Bran, Romania

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Among the recent and less recent discussions concerning the meaning of “experiments” for the constitution of early modern science, much has been said about the relation between science and religion, natural philosophy and natural theology and the various ways of reaching certainty. For some of the early modern philosophy, studying nature carried moral and religious significance. Moreover, the experimental practice itself was sometimes regarded as related to religious experiences. Some of this moral and religious background of the experimental philosophy has often been considered as a rhetorical apologetic construction. But is this the only way of seeing the connection? Is there a possibility of seeing religious and moral values as intrinsic to the experimental philosophy?

The FME-Princeton seminar in modern philosophy is an international meeting of scholars interested in various aspects of early modern thought. The aim of the seminar is to create an interesting environment for discussing papers and ideas. It includes workshops in the morning and presentations of papers in the afternoon, trying to maintain a balance between a high academic level and the informal spirit of an academia.

The seminar will take place in Bran, near Brasov, in Transylvania.

Participants: Vlad Alexandrescu (University of Bucharest), Catalin Avramescu (University of Bucharest), Norma B. Goethe (National University of Cordoba, Argentina), Etienne Brun Rovet (Paris I), Ion Copoeru (Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj), Sorana Corneanu (University of Bucharest, New Europe College), Sorin Costreie (University of Bucharest, New Europe College), Mihnea Dobre (University of Bucharest), Marius Dumitru (Oxford University), William Eaton (Georgia Southern University), Raphaele Fruet (Cambridge University), Daniel Garber (Princeton University), Vana Grigoropoulous (Athens), Irina Iakounina (Freiburg, Yale University), Dana Jalobeanu (Vasile Goldis University, Arad), Dana Nica (Iasi University and Clermont-Ferrand), Adrian Nita (Institute of Philosophy, Romanian Academy), Lucian Petrescu (University of Bucharest, Paris IV), Ionut Untea (Université de Lyon III).

Seminars and Texts

Each morning will be devoted to a reading group organized around the following texts:

1. Natural philosophy in the correspondence between Leibniz and Clarke.

The Correspondence between Leibniz and Clarke (extrait from the Gerhardt edition, .rtf, 76 p.). Cf. also an introduction available online and Jonathan Bennett's version, very readable.

Both Leibniz and Clarke worked hardly towards establishing the free will of all action, including that of God, against the metaphysical necessity governing systems like that of Spinoza. Both believed that God acts according to His free will adjusted upon His wisdom and goodness. Their controversy concerning the free will derives from the incompatibility between the extension of the Principle of Sufficient Reason which Leibniz assigned to cover even God's action and Clarke's liberty of indifference, namely his idea that God can simply decide something on the basis of his free will, without having any more reason than that he wants to do something. The discussion will revolve around the consequences of this incompatibility. We will thus address question like what law is and how God governs the world, what is the order of nature and what is the place of miracles, how free agency is possible and why. Finally, we will move towards deriving the famous debate on space and time out of this.

2. Baconian experiments.

Bacon, Sylva Sylvarum, Century X (PDF, 4 MB).

3. The moral value of studying nature and the image of the "Christian Virtuoso"

Robert Boyle, The Christian Virtuoso, Part I (1690 edition, .pdf, 18 MB).

4. Experiments, therapy and the construction of the moral person in the 17th Century treatises on passions.


New Organon, Book I, Aphorisms XXI-XXVIII and XXXVIII-LXVIII; The Works of Francis Bacon, 1863 (html external).

Descartes, Les Passions de l'âme (html, 1649 edition). Il s'agit des sections suivantes: XVII-XXXII (fonctions de l'ame; volonté, perception, imagination; définition des passions; la glande pineale) XL-L (effet des passions; pouvoir de l'âme sur le corps; mémoire, imagination, attention, volonté; combat entre les passions; force ou faiblesse de l'âme); LXIX-LXXXII (les six passions primitives; l'admiration; l'amour); CXXXVII-CXLVIII (usage des passions; émotions intérieures de l'âme; l'exercise de la vertu); CXLIX-CLXI (estime; générosité; humilité vertueuse); CCXI-CCXII (remède général contre les passions).
English text from the 1650 edition (html, external).

Malebranche, De la recherche de la vérité, Livre V, ch. V-VIII (1688 edition, extract; PDF 3 MB)

Thomas Wright, The passions of the minde in generall, 1604 (2nd edition, 1st edition 1601, excerpts, PDF 4 MB)

Edward Reynoldes, A Treatise of the Passions and Faculties of the Soule of Man, 1640 edition, excepts, PDF 3,7 MB)

Pierre Du Moulin, Of Peace and Contentment of Minde, 1657 (excerpts, PDF 4MB)

5. The culture of the mind. Investigation into an Early Modern Discipline

Download the Seminar's poster (PDF).