Sunday, May 10, 2009

07 Catharine Trotter Cockburn

John Locke was an old man.He had reached the respectable age of 70, when he read a book, entitled The Defence of Mr. Locke's Essay of Human Understanding, written by an enthousiast , creative and polemic woman: Catharine Trotter Cockburn. It was the year 1702.

He was so impressed with the work, that he presented Catharine with a substantial gift of money and books in appreciation. This really must have made a deep impression on her, if you realize that the was a girl of barely 23 years old.

She defended Locke against a theologian, Thomas Burnet, who held a high position at the court of William III. That man made his literary fame by , among other thing, calculating the amount of water on earth to explain Noah's Flood.

Some of his pamflets against Locke ignited the polemic fire in Catharine Totter. If we take into account that he was a theologian, he definitely would have had objections against Locke's basic idea that man is born without any knowledge, as a tabula rasa.

Such a point of view has fundamental consequences for all kinds of ethical theories and would certainly conflict with the christian ideas of Thomas Burnet.

He concludes that Locke's epistemology is simply insufficient to be a foundation for moral knowledge, and that moral ideas, on Locke's system, remain as uncertain as the ideas of God's nature and the immortality of the soul.

Catharine Totter Cockburn was a woman, who actively participated in the moral debates of her time. She was not a mainstream philosopher, but historically again an example of the philosophical discourse of her time.

In 1708, she married Reverend Patrick Cockburn, and all but ceased to write until 1724, when she began another philosophical treatise, again defending Locke.

And was according to Thomas Birch, her friend, who published her collected works in 1751, "intirely diverted from her studies for many years, by attending upon the duties of a wife and mother".

There is nothing feministic in her writings.She was just an equal participant in the philosophical debate on moral issues of her time. That debate was about the foundations of our moral sense.

With the rise of rationalism and the answer to that in Locke's empiricism the foundation of moral sense had become more not just a theological issue. It had become a definitly philosophical question.

There were different approches possible. The rationalist approach saw our moral insights as the result of a rational process and in this process the ratio is able to grasp the various moral relations that result from the essential natures of things in the universe.

An other approach is that humans possess a special sensory ability that can determine, pre-rationally, what is good or evil. We have, so to speak, a moral sense.

Now, a question much debated in her days was, whether there ever can be a motive to duty or virtue other than the expectation of pleasure, whether, that is to say, duty and interest must not necessarily coincide? This would rule out an christian justification of moral sense.

But we haven't reached that point yet. For Cockburn, it is through knowledge of our own and God's natures that humans can understand the right and proper relations that ought to subsist in the universe.

According to this account, moral obligation arises from the demands of our natures; that is, we ought to be guided by that which is suitable and proper to our natures as rational and social beings.

Common sense judges virtuous practice according to what is fit and natural, and not merely according to the good the practice produces. On her view, humans have a natural and innate tendency toward what is good and benevolent that transcends merely weighing the effects of one's actions.

In other words, although the debate on utilitarianism had already started, we have to wait till Jeremy Bentham (1748 -1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806 -1873) to bring it into the spotlights of philosophical discourse.

Main Resources:
Joke J. Hermsen (ed.), Het denken van de ander (1997)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition

The Discussion

[13:24] herman Bergson: This on Catharine Trotter Cockburn :-)
[13:24] Qwark Allen: :-)
[13:24] herman Bergson: Just an intelligent lady who loved to write
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: ah
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: not too much more i think
[13:25] Cailleach Shan: Her view is amazingly positive given the time she lived in, particularly in Scotland.
[13:25] herman Bergson: She also send letters to the Gentlemen's Magazine
[13:25] AristotleVon Doobie: Ms. Cockburn believed that we are born with a conscience?
[13:25] herman Bergson: wrote theater plays
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:25] herman Bergson: when she was 16
[13:25] hope63 Shepherd: we are the time of shakespeare i think?
[13:25] herman Bergson: Her collected works never made another edition
[13:26] herman Bergson: 1679 - 1750
[13:26] hope63 Shepherd: are the wiki wizz.. shakespeare'
[13:26] hope63 Shepherd: ?
[13:27] herman Bergson: Shaekspeare died in 1616
[13:27] Gemma Cleanslate: not too much anywhere about her
[13:27] Gemma Cleanslate: except to cite the literary
[13:27] Alarice Beaumont: yes.. i did not find much of her
[13:27] herman Bergson: It is due to the women who conduct women studies these days that she is brought to our attention again
[13:27] Cailleach Shan: Yep... Willie Shakespear died 23 April 1616
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: yes i think that is it
[13:28] hope63 Shepherd: thanks herman.. but it would mean that the theatre ..which was open for both men and women.. had some influence on women starting to think differently.. or more profoundly..
[13:28] herman Bergson: What is important in that is that it changes our ideas about history
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: those women studies look back and find those who were neglected
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: but had an impact
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:29] herman Bergson: Yes Gemma....women are almost ignored in historical reseach
[13:29] Gemma Cleanslate: exactly
[13:29] herman Bergson: or she had to be some queen or tzarina, which you cant ignore...
[13:29] Qwark Allen: it is amazing
[13:30] Cailleach Shan: I'm interested in Ari's question... that we are born with a conscience!
[13:30] Qwark Allen: how history negleted women
[13:30] herman Bergson: sorry,...missed that one...a sec
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: and here in the US we also look back and find Black writers,musicians etc who would have had a real impact if they were not ignored and who are not looked at also differently in history
[13:30] hope63 Shepherd: i think women didn't neglect history..:)
[13:31] Alarice Beaumont: yes Gemma
[13:31] Gemma Cleanslate: no, history neglected women
[13:31] AristotleVon Doobie: as long as the wirters of history books were male, the male seem to have dominated history
[[13:31] Qwark Allen: indeed
[13:31] hope63 Shepherd: as a wise observer once said-- behind each great man is hidden a woman
[13:32] herman Bergson: yes..
[13:32] AristotleVon Doobie: the internet is changing who writes history
[13:32] herman Bergson: my astonishment grows with every woman philosopher I study
[13:32] Gemma Cleanslate: just have to be careful it is the truth ari
[13:32] herman Bergson: we have such a twisted vision on reality
[13:32] AristotleVon Doobie: yes, pray for the power of discerment :))
[13:33] herman Bergson: But Aristotle's man born with a conscious..
[13:33] Alarice Beaumont: yes.. hopefully georg orwells novel stays only fiction :-)
[13:34] herman Bergson: Cockburn believed like many in her time that the human being has an inborn moral sense
[13:34] herman Bergson: the debate is about how that moral sense works, where it gets its criteria from
[13:35] herman Bergson: in that you can go from extreme platonism (Catholic church) to extreme naturalism I would call it
[13:35] herman Bergson: or materialism...maybe better
[13:35] AristotleVon Doobie: being a fan of 'tabula rasa' I think that that innate moral sense has been confused with our ablity to reason
[13:36] Cailleach Shan: That's assuming one agrees with her beliefs Herman.
[13:36] herman Bergson: what do you mean Cailleach?
[13:36] hope63 Shepherd: in her time. wasn't it the idea that moral is a god-given implanted value..
[13:36] herman Bergson: No hope...not exactly
[13:36] Cailleach Shan: Well, she was a woman of her time. Her world was somewhat truncated.
[13:36] herman Bergson: Some held that view, not all
[13:37] hope63 Shepherd: confronted with the notion that it could be a social agreement".. or common sense values..
[13:37] herman Bergson: some saw it as a part of human nature to have a sense for good and evil, not directly as a god given thing
[13:37] hope63 Shepherd: or human nature.. but one would have to inquire what human nature is..
[13:38] herman Bergson: yet....discovering the good in reality was a kind of discovering god's wil too
[13:38] AristotleVon Doobie: of cousse that would support the preminse that ' some people are just born bad'
[13:38] Gemma Cleanslate: right on time Rod
[13:38] herman Bergson: Hello Rodney....we kept a seat free for you...^_^
[13:38] Rodney Handrick: thanks Gemma
[13:38] Rodney Handrick: thanks Herman
[13:38] Alarice Beaumont: Hi Rod
[13:39] Rodney Handrick: Hi Alarice
[13:39] Cailleach Shan: mmmmm...'born bad' that sounds too simplistic.
[13:39] Qwark Allen: Hello sir hi
[13:39] Rodney Handrick: Hi Qwark
[13:39] hope63 Shepherd: but lets not forget this was still a time when they debated the human nature of slaves7indians/blacks
[13:39] Qwark Allen: :-)
[13:39] herman Bergson: I would say that in ENgland in the moral debate you see a slowly drifting away from the idea that the moral insight is god given
[13:39] AristotleVon Doobie: other thatn a physical devect, I doubt anyone is born evil
[13:40] herman Bergson: that is what they believed in those days Aristotle
[13:40] AristotleVon Doobie: there is modern argument form christiona fundementalist the morality comes frm god
[13:40] hope63 Shepherd: lag or crash..
[13:40] herman Bergson: But the drive for pleasure as the moral motivatoin was already discussed as an optin
[13:41] Cailleach Shan: I am still having some difficulty deciding exactly what 'morality' is.
[13:41] hope63 Shepherd: kind of a social contract caill
[13:41] AristotleVon Doobie: was 'empathy' copnsider at all then as motivation for moral behavior
[13:41] herman Bergson: the ability of the human to see the difference between good and evil
[13:42] Cailleach Shan: That's my problem Herman.... everyone has their own interpretation of what is good and what is evil.
[13:42] herman Bergson: not in those terms Aristotle
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: pity
[13:43] herman Bergson: In those days there was a general opinion that all men would see the same things as good and evil, Cailleach
[13:43] herman Bergson: I think there was a strong conventionalism then
[13:43] Rodney Handrick: I don't think there is such a thing as good and evil...
[13:43] hope63 Shepherd: empa
[13:44] herman Bergson: Spinoza would have said that too Rodney
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: as presented where?? i guess the 10 commandments
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: as a basis for it all
[13:44] AristotleVon Doobie: evil is just the absence of good, like cold is the absence of heat
[13:44] herman Bergson: I think people didnt question the general opinion about what was good or evil
[13:45] Rodney Handrick: I agree Ari
[13:45] Gemma Cleanslate: sounds simplistic ari
[13:45] herman Bergson: something like the 10 commandments indeed Gemma
[13:45] hope63 Shepherd: thje egytians had all of that in their book of death.. so the whole moral question is much older..
[13:45] Cailleach Shan: So it was more about what we 'socially acceptable'
[13:45] Cailleach Shan: was*
[13:45] Alarice Beaumont: yes.. Cail
[13:45] hope63 Shepherd: socially useful i would say..
[13:45] Alarice Beaumont: the moral sense defines good and evil...ethics
[13:45] herman Bergson: I think you are right Gemma, I would agree with that
[13:46] herman Bergson: As Rodney one questioned the existence of good and evil
[13:46] Rodney Handrick: some people think communicating in this virtual world is evil...
[13:46] Cailleach Shan: Except the philosophers of that time
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:47] herman Bergson: That is what I am begining to wonder about Cailleach
[13:47] hope63 Shepherd: isn't it that in societies they realiued that some behaviour was good for the society and some moral sense is more like a social/survival sense
[13:47] Cailleach Shan: How so Herman?
[13:47] herman Bergson: Only Spinoza had an explicite opinion about good and the sense that evil did not exist
[13:47] AristotleVon Doobie: so good and evil becomes only opions
[13:47] Rodney Handrick: hmm...interesting point Hope
[13:47] hope63 Shepherd: which would explain the differences in different cultures..
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: well until they beginmaking laws then we know what is considered wrong
[13:48] Rodney Handrick: you know what they say about "opinions"...
[13:48] herman Bergson: Yes Hope, but it took another 100 years till philosophers said so
[13:48] hope63 Shepherd: in a way spinoza is right.. if he were a nihilist:)
[13:48] AristotleVon Doobie: byt are laws moral?
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:49] Rodney Handrick: opinion
[13:49] AristotleVon Doobie: is morality dependent on majority thinking?
[13:49] Qwark Allen: for sure
[13:49] hope63 Shepherd: right herman.. but humanity lived thousands of years with that knowledge without putting it into a philosophical concept:)
[13:49] Alarice Beaumont: yes.. i think so, Ari
[13:49] Qwark Allen: depending on the society you are
[13:49] Alarice Beaumont: that's why it can change during history
[13:49] Cailleach Shan: @ Ari.... doesn't it depend which culture you are born into.
[13:49] AristotleVon Doobie: I think it does, Cail
[13:50] hope63 Shepherd: ari.. you must be kidding..:9 majorities.. majorities of what.. if not power..:)
[13:50] Rodney Handrick: I still believe in a sense of balance
[13:51] herman Bergson: It is nice to see how history reaps itself in our discussion
[13:51] Rodney Handrick: spiritual, mental, physical, emotional...all must be balanced
[13:51] herman Bergson: Catharine was deeply involved in such discussions herself
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: communal morality is a decison by the marjority of the tribe
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: we rarely take the eastern ideas into consideration when these queations come up
[13:51] Cailleach Shan: I find it very difficult to consider a moral stance from Catherine's point of view. Her world was profoundly different to mine.
[13:51] hope63 Shepherd: take the simple example of killing: kill someone of your "clan " is bad.. kill someone else can be good..
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: individual morality is based on placing ourselves in anothere's shoes
[13:52] herman Bergson: I intend to pay more attention to eastern philosophy compared with western philosophy in the next project Gemma
[13:52] Rodney Handrick: emphathy?
[13:52] Qwark Allen: that is empathy to
[13:52] Cailleach Shan: How excellent Herman. That will be really interesting.
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: ahha
[13:52] AristotleVon Doobie: yes, empathy
[13:52] Qwark Allen: yes herman :-)
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: new project i had that in mhy mind all along lolololol
[13:52] hope63 Shepherd: another.. as long as hee wears the same brand of shoes.. well as i don't lol
[13:52] Qwark Allen: :-)))
[13:53] herman Bergson: I think we can continue for a long time investigating the foundations of our moral sense
[13:53] herman Bergson: However, it was about Catharine we were talking..
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:54] herman Bergson: One maybe feminine thing is her interest in moral issues
[13:54] Cailleach Shan: And yet she put everything on hold to be a 'wife and mum'
[13:54] herman Bergson: Many women philosophers we'll meet will show that same interest
[13:54] AristotleVon Doobie: hmmm, that may smak of sexism Herman
[13:54] AristotleVon Doobie: smack
[13:54] hope63 Shepherd: i would say that she is the example that in those days women were not only capable but ready to discuss subjects wich were allocated to men before..
[13:55] herman Bergson: Yes Cailleach....nowhere in her writings she seems to make an issue of the fact that she is a womean
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: not at that time
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: ari
[13:55] AristotleVon Doobie: was she more intune to moral sense than the males of her time?
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: now for sure
[13:55] Qwark Allen: we need to go
[13:55] hope63 Shepherd: she has been published..but i think in many households the revolution had already started..
[13:55] Cailleach Shan: Happy dancing guys.
[13:55] Qwark Allen: ty for the interesting lecture herman
[13:55] herman Bergson: I woukldnt say that Aristotle
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:55] Qwark Allen: good bye thursday
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: ty
[13:55] Qwark Allen: if not soon
[13:55] Qwark Allen: :-)
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: see you thursday
[13:55] AristotleVon Doobie: bye Gemma, Q-man :)
[13:56] Rodney Handrick: Bye Gemma
[13:56] Alarice Beaumont: bye :-)
[13:56] herman Bergson: Time to dismiss the class...:-)
[13:56] Rodney Handrick: Bye Qwark
[13:56] herman Bergson: Bye Qwark
[13:56] Cailleach Shan: If Catherine were born in our time she would have been hailed as a child prodigy....
[13:57] Ze Novikov: time to go see you all next time ...:)))
[13:57] herman Bergson: she would ...
[13:57] herman Bergson: Bye Ze
[13:57] herman Bergson: Bye Cailleach
[13:57] Cailleach Shan: Thanks Herman....

Posted by herman_bergson on 2008-12-04 15:13:18

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