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Early Modern Interest Group

Meeting time: Fridays 1:30–3:00 PM (about every other week – see calendar below)
Meeting place: Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science library, 737 Heller Hall unless otherwise noted.

The early modern interest group (EMIG) reads and discusses primary and secondary literature focused on natural philosophy from the early modern period, especially in the work of key philosophers such as Descartes, Leibniz, and Kant. Our basis for selecting readings is to study works that are routinely ignored in the philosophy curriculum. Natural philosophical discoveries and debates are often pertinent to understanding why these philosophers adopted particular positions or rejected others, and our goal is to become familiar with a wide range of these neglected works.

Our meetings are informal, and some participants need to arrive late or leave early because of scheduling conflicts. All faculty and graduate students from the University of Minnesota and area colleges and universities are welcome to attend whenever they would like (without invitation), and without giving advanced notice. Undergraduates can be included by invitation. If you know of an undergraduate who is well suited and possibly interested, please contact Alan Love so an invitation can be extended.

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Spring 2018

This semester EMIG will read several primary texts under scrutiny in Justin Smith's 2015 book Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference: Race in Early Modern Philosophy (, and Justin will visit EMIG on April 6th.

January 19: Matthew Hale (1677) The Primitive Origination of Mankind: Considered and Examined According to the Light of Nature, Chapter 7, pp 174–208. (pdf)

February 2: EMIG is going on the road...
A wonderful opportunity has emerged in relation to our reading of Edward Tyson's Orang-outang, sive, Homo sylvestris. Emily Beck, Assistant Curator at the The Owen H. Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine, has invited us to view a 1751 copy of Tyson's book, which they have in their collection. Thus, for our Friday (2/2) meeting of EMIG, we will convene on the 5th floor of Diehl Hall at the Wangensteen ( wangensteen/help/visitors). We will spend approximately the first half hour viewing the book and then the remainder of the time in our normal discussion.
For those who have never been to Diehl Hall (East Bank), a group will depart together from the 7th floor of Heller Hall at 1:15pm to walk over. (Please arrive a few minutes beforehand.) Otherwise, we'll see everyone who is available on Friday at the Wangensteen for a special session of EMIG.

Tyson, Edward. 1699. Orang-outang, sive, Homo sylvestris, or, The Anatomy of a Pygmie Compared with That of a Monkey, an Ape, and a Man to Which is Added, A Philosophical Essay Concerning the Pygmies, the Cynocephali, the Satyrs and Sphinges of the Ancients: Wherein It will Appear That They Are All Either Apes or Monkeys, and Not Men, as Formerly Pretended. London: Thomas Bennet. Preface and Chapter 1. (pdf)

February 16: John Locke's "Immediate Inspiration," and "An Essay on the understanding of St. Paul's epistles by consulting St. Paul himself" in Victor's Nuovo's Writings on Religion: pp. 37-41 and 51-66 (pdf); and John Locke's Essay xviii (Faith and Reason) (pdf).
Shelley Weinberg
(University of Illinois) will be visiting

March 2: Bernier, François. 2001 [1684]. A New Division of the Earth. History Workshop Journal 51: 247-250 (pdf).
Smith, J.E.H. 2013. ‘A Series of Generations’: Leibniz on Race. Annals of Science 70(3):319-335 (pdf).

March 9: No meeting

March 16: No meeting Spring Break

March 23: George Berkeley's Passive Obedience in The Works of George Berkeley Bishop of Cloyne, A A Luce and T E Jessop (eds) 1979 pp 17–46 (pdf) and Mary Astell's Some Reflections Upon Marriage in Political Writings Patricia Spingborg (ed) 1996 pp 3–80. (pdf)
Nancy Kendrick (Wheaton College) will be visiting

April 6: Smith, J.E.H. 2016. What is a World? Deception, Possibility, and the Uses of Fiction from Cervantes to Descartes. Journal of Early Modern Studies 5(2):9–27 (pdf).
Justin Smith
(University of Paris 7) will be visiting

April 13: Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s On the Natural Varieties of Man (1775), in The Anthropological Treatises of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1865), pp. 97–121 (pdf).

May 4: Johann Gottfried von Herder’s Outlines of a Philosophy of the History of Man (1784, trans. 1800), pp. 163–87 (pdf).

Fall 2017

This semester we will be reading selections from Kant's "Natural Science" using the Cambridge edition. Bennett McNulty, our resident expert on these topics, will lead the discussions. This is in coordination with his graduate seminar on similar themes this semester (https://schedulebuilder.umn. edu/explore/2017Fall/PHIL/ 8090/). Some of you may be interested in registering, either for credit or audit, or sitting in. Contact Bennett for more details ( For those wanting more background on Kant's philosophy of science, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a good place to start.

September 8: Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces (GSK), Dedication, Preface, and Chapter 1, pp. 12–33.

September 22: Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces (GSK), Chapter 2, §§20–36, pp. 34–46, and Chapter 3, pp. 121–55.

October 6: Midwest Study Group of the North American Kant Society Meeting. Conference begins at 9:00, afternoon session starts at 2:00, and keynote presentation (Daniel Warren, UC Berkeley) at 4:30. In the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Room 215 (Roy Wilkins Room).

October 20: Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens (NTH), Dedication, Preface, Part 1, and Chapters 1–4 of Part 2, pp. 192–243.

November 10: Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens (NTH), Chapters 5–8 of Part 2 and Part 3, pp. 243–308.

November 17: Succinct Exposition of Some Meditations on Fire (DI) pp. 309–326.

December 8: Physical Monadology (MonPh), in Kant, I. 1992 (2014 online). Theoretical Philosophy 1755–1770, ed. D. Walford and R. Meerbote,Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 47–66.

Previous Early Modern Interest Group topics

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