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Michael Edwards. Time and The Science of The Soul In Early Modern Philosophy.

Michael Edwards. Time and The Science of The Soul In Early Modern Philosophy. Brill's Studies in Intellectual History 224. Leiden: Brill, 2013. x + 224 pp. $128.00. Review by KARIN SUSAN FESTER, INDEPENDENT SCHOLAR.

This is a book for philosophers who are not only interested in the concept of time, but who seek new perspectives on this intriguing and problematical philosophical concept as well as appreciate what Rene Descartes and Thomas Hobbes have to say about it. Michael Edwards' book is distinctive because it focuses attention on the numerous late Aristotelian thinkers who assumed that the soul's diverse functions played an active role in the concept of time. More precisely, it is devoted to the aspects of time which have either not been thoroughly examined or omitted by other historians of early modern philosophy; instead, these other scholars have shown how Aristotelian natural philosophy was concentrated on "space" rather than "time." Edwards argues that time is somehow intimately connected to the human rational soul--"'relative' or as dependent on motion and the soul"--and this, of course, contrasts with Isaac Newton's (1642-1727) concept of time as something 'absolute' (6). The author seems to achieve a persuasive argument, and he invokes elements from early modern commentaries and textbooks concerning Aristotle's Physics and De Anima and attempts to find connections and influential elements to the natural and political philosophy of Descartes and Hobbes in the seventeenth century.

The in-depth Introduction begins with delineating distinct ways of conceptualizing time: absolute and relative. The author disagrees with Newton's concept of absolute time: "an immaterial entity, that is parallel to space, and which flows independently and absolutely" (2). He also discusses the early modern thinkers, 1570 to 1670, who also embraced the idea of time as something absolute, namely, Telesio, Patrizi, Gassendi, Charleton, and Barrow. For centuries, this particular view of time was dominant. Edwards challenges this taken-for-granted assumption, because to "[view] early modern theories of time solely through a Newtonian lens can distort our perspective strikingly" (3).

In Chapter One, Edwards explores how time was considered in early modern commentaries on Aristotle's Physics Book IV, as well as textbooks in natural philosophy and metaphysics produced by authors from Italy and France, and throughout northern and central Europe before 1650. Edwards highlights ideas from Aristotle's Physics Book IV, 223a21-a29.' "that time in some way depends on, or is constructed by, the soul" (4). The author emphasizes the theological works of philosopher Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308) and the Spanish theologian Francisco Suarez's metaphysical writings, because these texts seemed to influence early modern commentaries concerning the ontology of time. Scotus and Suarez both emphasized the significance of the human "imagination," and "internal time" as a property of beings. The textbook authors surveyed included Clemens Timpler, Rodophus Goclenius, Bartholomaeus Keckerman, Johann Heinrich Alsted, Johannes Poncius, and the Franciscans Mastrius and Belluti.

The role of time in Aristotelian psychology is the focus of the second chapter. This is significant because it is the first work that has thoroughly examined the role of time and temporality in early modern commentaries of Aristotle's De Anima. Numerous commentaries were surveyed by the author: the De Anima commentaries of Hieronymus Dandinus (1554-1634), the Coimbra commentaries, and a host of others, including Johannes Maginus, Franciscus Toletus, Michaeli Zanardi and Hugo Cavellus. These commentators "considered not only how we think of time [...] but also how we think in time" (10). The De Anima tradition perceived man as both a rational and temporal animal. The author considers various phenomena and concepts: "time and duration," "the language of time and duration," "temporal sequence," the soul's "temporality and atemporality," "time and motion," and more (69, 72, 73, 75, 91). This particular chapter also includes an interesting discussion about animals and their "having a sense of time," i.e., awareness of time--the purpose being to explore whether animals do indeed "possess a genuine awareness of time" (113). Personally, I wish the author had written more on this very enlightening topic.

The second part of the book, Chapters Three and Four, are devoted to how the human subject orients him- or herself in time in the natural and political philosophy of two prominent seventeenth-century philosophers, Rene Descartes and Thomas Hobbes. In Chapter Three, Edwards begins by emphasizing that "time was an unusual concept in the Cartesian system because it involved the body and soul together" (119). The primary concern is with Rene Descartes' (1596-1650) assumptions about 'duration' and the soul. In this regard, his Meditations, the ensuing debates with Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655), the Principia philosophiae and Les Passions de Lame were all examined. The author made a profound assumption:"[Descartes] was not uninterested in the connections between time and the soul, but he seemed to have approached them through ontology or metaphysics rather than through psychology" (119)--and this is the part I found to be so interesting. Consider the implications for "I think therefore I am": if we were to exclusively devote ourselves to how we ought to think of this in time, and duration--Edwards has expounded on this at length, and is a part of the chapter I found especially interesting. Furthermore, we can thank Descartes for "[creating] the temporal" (144). Despite Descartes having rejected many elements of late Aristotelian assumptions about how the soul might be constructed and influenced by time, it doesn't mean he wholeheartedly disregarded Aristotelian ideas altogether: "Descartes was in fact interested in at least two issues also found in the late Aristotelian psychology of time" (145). The final chapter of the book is devoted to the role of time and the soul in the natural and political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679). Edwards stated, 'that scholars have underestimated the role of time in Hobbes' thought as a whole' (11), moreover, Hobbes writings are are certainly influenced by the late Aristotelian tradition.

The author sheds new light on Hobbes' views about the ''political subject": "[Man] as a temporal animal underpinned his theory of the state, but itself drew on recognisably Aristotelian concepts and distinctions" (163). Hobbes' natural philosophy of time concentrated on "the temporal character of the political subject," specifically "how man as a political subject might orient himself in time" (163). It is in Leviathan (1651) where Hobbes wrote extensively about time and how time shaped, ordered, and impacted the mind of the political subject. Edwards examined various works by Hobbes: The Elements of Law, De Corpore (165) and De Mundo Examined (1642-1643), as well as the Demundo Dialogi Tres. Noteworthy is how Edwards scrutinized the various De Corpore drafts, and pointed out that "[m] aterial about time appears in four extant manuscripts before the first Latin publication of De Corpore in 1655" (169). Edwards demonstrated that Hobbes "aimed to present a theory of the human subject, and not the soul, orienting itself in time," in other words, it is "how man thinks and senses" (183, 182). This differs from late Aristotelian ideas which emphasized that the soul thinks and senses.

In the final section of this chapter, Edwards focuses on "Time and the Political Subject." It is in Leviathan, where Hobbes elaborates on the temporality of man and also where he demonstrated time's signficance and intimate connection with the political subject and the state. Edwards expounds on Hobbes' discussion about the future, evident in sections of Leviathan and in the De Mundo Examined, which seems to suggest that time is indeed epistemologically unreliable. To illustrate the profoundly temporal nature of the human subject, Edwards emphasized Hobbes' preoccupation with prudence, fear, and the future, because these are "centred on a notion of man orienting himself in, and relating, to time"(203).

Certainly Edwards' book is very relevant to seventeenth-century studies. It is innovative and intellectually invigorating, and especially so because the Newtonian concept of absolute time is challenged. This book will appeal to philosophers who relish Descartes' and Hobbes' works. Remarkable is Edwards' exposition on Descartes' Meditations and the Principles, for it is there that Descartes seemed to be most preoccupied with the subject orienting themselves in time. Moreover, the debates between Descartes and Gassendi offer a view into a neglected area of enquiry as it concerns the human subject and time. For scholars of seventeeth century political thought, especially unique is Edwards' investigation of the concept of time in Thomas Hobbes' writings, because he has explored elements pertaining to time that were not considered by other scholars, such as Hobbes' natural philosophy, psychology, and political philosophy. For students, namely philosophers, who desire to tackle the concept of time--even those who are not focused on seventeenth century studies specifically--this book would be most useful for those who already possess a deep understanding of Hobbes' thinking and, in particular, Descartes' Meditations and other prominent works. A bibliography and index are also included; the bibliography consists of ten pages, featuring both printed primary and secondary sources; the index consists of little over five pages and could be more elaborate..

Despite the extensive use of late Aristotelian philosophy in this book, it must be emphasized that Edwards did so because these texts served to set a firm stage on which he could develop his arguments and views, and these arguments and assumptions eventually served to locate the intricate connections to and implications in the thinking of Descartes and Hobbes about how the human subject orients him- or herself in time.

Indeed, time is a problematical concept. The author has made a strong and persuasive effort in unearthing heretofore neglected elements pertaining to time in the writings of Rene Descartes and Thomas Hobbes. Various elements in the commentaries on late Aristotelian natural philosophy were teased out--complex connections, though not always necessarily so--and their influence exposed in the texts of the influential thinkers we revere so much today. Edwards book offers the reader the opportunity to see Descartes and Hobbes, prominent thinkers of the seventeeth century, in a fruitful and regenerated way. And the reading audience of the book ought not to be limited to scholars who only devote themselves to seventeenth-century thought. The study of time is relevant to many fields of study. For philosophers the book has broad potential: it's useful for those who work in philosophy of mind, metaphysics, political philosophy, ethics, and philosophy of animals, to name a few specialties.
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Author:Fester, Karin Susan
Publication:Seventeenth-Century News
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2015
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