Dueling with Dualism the forlorn quest for the immaterial mind
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In the years before her meeting with van Helmont, Lady Conway had been subjected to excruciating medical procedures in the hope of alleviating the terrible pains that were slowly incapacitating her. Fortunately, this collection has been reissued, with a new introduction and new material by Sarah Hutton. Van Helmont has been consistently dismissed as an intellectual lightweight. For a decidedly different opinion see Allison P. Brill, forthcoming.
Nicolson, Conway Letters, p. Thomas Willis, a noted clinical physician specializing in neurological disorders and the functioning of the brain, wrote up Lady Conway's case and described the mercury cures prescribed for her condition. Mercury is, of course, a poison, which explains why Willis admits he was so "terrified" by the effects of the supposed cure that he stopped prescribing it altogether: We shall consider, whether Salivation for the Curing old and confirmed Headaches is to be administered.
Dualism (philosophy of mind)
Indeed, if the pains of the Head arise from the Venereal Disease, no doubt but that evil Remedy ought to be applyed to that evil Distemper: But having tryed that kind of remedy in Headaches arising from other causes, I found not the harvest worth the pains, and I confess some examples in those kind of cases, have terrified me from that method. A certain noble Lady whose sickness is below described for the Curing of a cruel and continual Headach, underwent a plentiful Salivation three times, viz. Introduction across the channel to France to be trepanned. Once there, however, no one dared to perform the operation, and her jugular arteries were opened instead an equally risky operation one would imagine!
More viewed van Helmont's arrival in England as providential. Not only was he reputed to be an expert alchemist who knew the secret of transmutation, but he was also thought to possess miraculous medicines.
At More's request, van Helmont agreed to visit the ailing Viscountess. Although van Helmont was unable to cure her, the two became close friends and intellectual collaborators. Under his aegis, she began to study the Lurianic Kabbalah and, following his lead, she converted to Quakerism. During this period Lady Conway wrote the philosophical treatise translated here.
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Her ideas are extraordinary, not only as the record of a woman trying to understand the reason for her own intense suffering, but also because of the radically unorthodox conclusions she reached as she tried to answer the most pressing theological and philosophical questions of the day. Her small treatise offers a valiant attempt to come to terms with the problematic features of Christianity, especially in its post-Reformation forms. Her work is essentially a theodicy, an endeavor to justify God's goodness and affirm his justice on impregnable grounds.
Lady Conway lived during a period when theology, philosophy, and science were inextricably intertwined. Her critique of the philosophy of Descartes, Hobbes, and Spinoza was motivated by her intensely religious vision of a world in which all men, whatever their faith, might live together in peace and brotherhood, praying to the same benevolent God.
Her theology and philosophy are therefore all of a piece, and to understand why she accepted the esoteric doctrines of the Kabbalah, why she converted to Quakerism, and why she came to the conclusion that everything in the universe was alive and capable of some degree of perception, one must first look at the religious issues that preoccupied her.
The Christian religion has many problematic features, and these became even more glaring in the early modern period as contacts with the non-Christian world increased and factionalism within Christianity escalated. The question of. She had endured from an oyntment of Quicksilver, a long and troublesome Salivation, so that she ran the hazard of her life. Afterwards twice a cure was attempted though in vain by a Flux at the Mouth from Mercurial Powder, which the noted Empiric Charles Hues [sic] ordinarily gave.
Thomas Willis. Cunningham and O. Grell Amsterdam, Rodolphi, forthcoming. Introduction what to do with the so-called "virtuous pagans,"16 a problem that had bothered early Christians, became more pressing as people realized how little of the world's population had, or ever would have, a chance to worship Christ and achieve salvation.
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Earlier thinkers rejected the idea that eminent and revered classical thinkers of the likes of Pythagoras, Plato, or Aristotle could have been damned for eternity simply because they had lived before Christ's coming; but what to do with them was another matter. Dante resolved the issue by placing his beloved Virgil in Limbo. By the seventeenth century this solution seemed mean spirited. How could Christianity claim to be a universal religion relevant to all men when salvation rested on a belief in Christ, who was an enigma to the vast majority of the world's population?
This was a perplexing problem for many Christians, not least of all for Lady Con way. Further problems arose from the Christian conception of God's divine attributes. How could a just and merciful God create men and then damn them for eternity when, in his omniscience, he must have known before he created them that they were bound to sin?
Didn't such foreknowledge make him utterly unjust or, even worse, the author of sin? Questions like these were made even more problematic by the doctrine of predestination. For an increasing number of people, the idea that God would actually predestine individuals to damnation was incomprehensible. There were other equally perplexing aspects of the Christian revelation. According to Genesis, creation occurred at a specific historical moment.
Many of Lady Conway's contemporaries accepted Bishop Ussher's opinion that creation occurred in B. But, as she points out in her treatise, if God is perfect, what would make him decide to create the world at one time rather than another? Such a decision would mean that he had changed his mind, which would imply that he was mutable and imperfect.
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Another theological conundrum concerned the question of whether the world was finite or infinite. If God was infinitely good, would he not create as many things as possible, indeed, an infinity of things? If one were to answer, yes, there were unsettling ramifications. If there were infinite worlds, did that mean that human beings existed elsewhere in the universe? If they did, did that, in turn, mean Christ had to be crucified and resurrected more than once and in different places? These were some of the major religious issues facing Lady Conway and her contemporaries.
But the so-called "new science," or "mechanical philosophy," posed equally pressing problems. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the ancient Greek doctrine of atomism became increasingly popular. The invention of the microscope gave the theory additional plausibility since men were able to observe tiny microscopic entities for the first time. This suggested that still smaller entities, or atoms, existed from which everything was composed.
Theories of mind
Advances in mathematics also Introduction favored the view that matter was made up of "solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, moveable particles," to quote Sir Isaac Newton's Optics, for the movements of such particles were supremely amenable to mathematical analysis.
This was the basic premise of the "mechanical philosophy. Descartes' philosophy was a product of the skeptical crisis that plagued intellectuals during the Reformation and post-Reformation period. As religious sectarianism proliferated and new scientific discoveries and theories undermined the Aristotelian world view, which had been in place for over two thousand years, many people found themselves intellectually adrift in a world that no longer seemed to offer any guidelines.
If Copernicus was correct and the earth was not at the center of the universe but simply one planet among others, and if Galileo's observations of sunspots, craters on the moon, and new planetary bodies were accurate, then the assumptions men had made for thousands of years about the world and their place in it were no longer valid. In the pre-Copernican, Aristotelian universe, the earth belonged to the sublunar realm of change and decay. In this realm matter and human passions had a corrupting influence, but human beings had a choice. They could follow their base, bodily instincts, living a brutal, sinful life that would lead to eternal damnation, or they could cultivate their spiritual and rational faculties and hope for everlasting life in the ethereal, unchanging heavens - the logical place for God's kingdom.
In the new Copernican universe, however, the distinction between the perfect, unchanging heavens and the imperfect earth whose very center provided the ideal location for hell was obliterated and with it traditional Christian cosmology. The heavens now appeared to be as blemished and mutable as the earth. Where could heaven or hell possibly be in the Copernican universe? Traditional scientific assumptions were also undermined by the Copernican theory. Aristotle's doctrine of the four elements, each with its allotted "natural" place, made little sense on an earth hurtling through space at incredible speed in defiance of common sense.
Even more important, the Copernican universe undermined the relationships and correspondences that had helped to organize human experience and give human beings some sense of security in an inherently insecure world.