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Early Modern: Margaret Cavendish, Part 2

In the second of two videos, Adela Deanova introduces Margaret Cavendish, an early modern English philosopher, and discusses the background to her critique of experimental philosophy. This video is a part of a series of videos coming from Project Vox (Duke), a project recovering the lost voices of women philosophers.

Speaker: Adela Deanova, Duke University.

Video transcript

(intro music) So this is Adela Deanova in the philosophy department at Duke University, where we are leading Project Vox. this is part two of Margaret Cavendish, an English philosopher who worked in the middle of the seventeenth century. To put Cavendish's publications in context, in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the number of women whose works were published in print increased to the hundreds. However, most of these works were not published quarto, or folio, format, what we would today think of as quote-unquote "a book." To give her works respectability, she published her works in a format expected for scholarly works, the kind that would be included in university libraries, and commissioned to the best possible publishers, printers, and illustrators. In her works, she experimented with a variety of styles and genres to express her views on natural philosophy. This also made her unusual, compared to other philosophers of her day. Since scholars would not engage with her and public debate, given her public notoriety and her unusual ways of expressing her views, Cavendish sent her works as presents to well-known academics at universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. They could not refuse. She was after all, one of the most prominent aristocrats in England. During the 1660s, Cavendish also became interested in the world of experimental philosophers such as Robert Boyle. On May 30th, 1667, she gained even more notoriety for being the very first woman to attend a meeting of the Royal Society. At the Society meeting, Cavendish observed Robert Boyle's experiments with the air pump and his experiments with mixing colors with the assistance of Robert Hooke. At a time when many women writers were concerned primarily with issues of religion and moral philosophy, or the education of women, Cavendish really trailblazed her way by developing a unique and very publicly presented position in natural philosophy. By the time of her death in 1673, she had developed a philosophical position which critiqued all the dominant materialist, mechanist, and dualist theories of substance and causation of her day. Cavendish criticizes Cartesian dualism, Hobbesian materialism, and the mechanist views of nature propounded by members of the Royal Society, such as Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke. According to many scholars today, Cavendish really staked out a completely new position that was distinguished from both the dualism and the materialism of her philosophical contemporaries. In the next few videos, we will accompany Cavendish on her visit to the Royal Society and look at her criticisms of the leading approach to studying nature in her day: the experimental and mechanical philosophy Subtitles by the Amara.org community