Observations Upon Experimental Philosophy (1666)

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Read Margaret Cavendish's 'Observations Upon Experimental Philosophy' (1666), up to p. 20, just before Chapter 21, which is on color. That sounds like a lot but I believe it's about 10 pages of scanned material, given that it's an abridged text; not all the original chapters are present. We will read the rest, but you'll only need roughly up to p. 20 for the current reading questions.

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Margaret Cavendish ÜBSERVATIONS UPON EXPERIMENTAL PHILOSOPHY Abridged, with Related Texts From the Second Edition, published in 1668, in London, by A. Maxwell. Edited, with an Introduction, by Eugene Marshall Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Indianapolis/ Cambridge ':vA..J¿V"> .Ç \' (}'i (;:\'\o\¡) I v'-sJ r lf-.,t fîÍ'-v Ö \, p , LLÒ ~ , l' . \ CHAPTER 1 { '. 1 1 J r/' \JV ì"~ • . OF HUMAN SENSE AND PERCEPTION 0 \ J ~ \ 1 O { t , . / . ok/$J' Ct- { ·t {\ · \ , ~Jf ,- ~---- ~,_\\\l ~ (. ~ V\ I ·\·' \,L L \"r' ?°\\JJ \ BEFORE I deliver my observations upon that part of philosophy which is called experimental, I thought it necessary to premise some discourse concerning the perception of human sense. __ It is known that man has five exterior senses, and every sense is ignorant of each other. For the nose knows not what the eyes see, nor the eyes what the ears hear, neither do the ears know what the tongue tastes. And as for touch, although it is a general sense, yet every several' part of the body has a several touch, and each part is ignorant of each other's touch: and thus there is a general ignorance of all the several parts, and yet a perfect knowledge in each part, for the eye is as knowing as the ear, and the ear as knowing as the nose, and the nose as knowing as the tongue, and one particular touch knows as much as another, as least is capable thereof. Nay, not only every several touch, taste, smell, sound or sight, is a several knowledge by itself, but each of them has another's many particular knowledges or perception as there are objects presented to them. Besides, there are several degrees in each particular sense; as for example, some men (I will not speak of other animals) their perception of sight, taste, smell, touch, or hearing, is quicker to some sorts of objects, than to others, according either to the perfection or imperfection or each object proper to each sense, for if their presentation of the objects be imperfect, either through variation or obscurity, or any other ways, the sense is deluded. Neither are all objects proper for one sense but as there are several senses, so there are several sorts of objects proper for each several sense. Now if there be such variety of several knowledges, not only in one creature, but in one sort of sense, to wit, the exterior senses of one human creature, what may there be in all the parts of nature? lt is true, there are some objects which are not at all perceptible by any of ouf exterior senses, as for example, rarified air, and the like. But although they be not subject to our exterior s~nsitive perception, yet they are subject to our rational perception, which is much purer and subtler than the sensitivenay, so pure and subtle a knowledge, that many believe it to be immaterial, as if it were some god, when as it is only a pure fine and subtle figurative 1. Cavendish uses the adjective "several" to mean something like "distinct." 4 i>- ÜBSERVATIONS UPON EXPERIMENTAL PHTLOSOPHY motion or perception. It is so active and subtle, as it is the best informer and reformer of a1J sensitive perception; for the rational matter is the most prudent and wisest part of nature, as being the designer of a1J productions, and the most pious and devoutest part, having the most perfect notions of God-I mean, so much as nature can possibly know of God. So that whatsoever the sensitive perception is either defective in, or ignorant of, the rational perception supplies. v~'{"' \,,/1 t But, mistake me not: by rational perception and knowledge, J mean ;'\ regular reason, not irregular, where I do also exclude art,2 which is apt to delude sense, and cannot inform us so well as reason does; for reason reforms and instructs sense in all its actions. But both the rational and the sensitive perception being dividable as well as composable, it causes ignorance as well as knowledge among nature's creatures. Fori. though nature is but one body and has no sharer or co-partner but is entire and· whole in itself, as not composed~ of several different parts or substances and consequently has but one infinite natural knowledge and wisdom, yet by reason she is also divided and composable, according to the nature of a body; we can justly and with reason say, that, as nature .is divided into several parts, so each several part has a several and particular knowledge and perception, both sensitive and rational, and again that each part is ignorant of the other's knowledge and perception; when as otherwise, considered altogether and in general, as they make up but one infinite body of nature, so they make also but one infinite generaLknowledge. And thus nature may be ca1Jed both individual, as not having single, parts subsisting without her, but all united in one body,.and dividable, by reason she is portable in her own several corporeal figurative motions, and not otherwise. For there is no vacuum in nature, neither can her parts start or remove from the infinite body of nat~re, so as to separate themselves from it. For there's no place to flee to, but body and place are a1J one thing; so that the parts of nature can only join and disjoin to and from parts, but not to and from the body of nature. And since nature is but one body, it is entirely wis!_.and.lm.Q_~ing, ord~her self-moving parts with a1J facility and ease, without any disturbance, living in pleasure and delight, with infinite varieties and curiosities, such as no single part or creature of hers can ever attain to. 2. By "art," Cavendish has in mind "artificial means," in particular, observations gained through the use of microscopes and telescopes, to which she generally refers as "glasses," and not the visual or performing arts such as painting or theater, for example. CHAPTER 2 5 CHAPTER2 I, OF ART,AND EXPERIMENTAL PHILOSOPHY SOME are of the opinion, that, t "by art there may be reparation made of the mischiefs and imperfections mankind has drawn upon itself by negligence and intemperance, and a willful and superstitious deserting the prescripts and rules of nature; whereby every man, both from a derived corruption, innate and born with him, and from his breeding and converse with men, is very subject to slip into a1J sorts of errors." But the all-powerful God, and his servant nature, know that art, which is but a particular creature, cannot inform' us of the truth of the infinite parts of nature, being but finite itself. For t~ugh every creature has a double perception, rational and sensitive, yet each reature or part has not an infinite perception. Nay, although each particular creature or part of nature may have some conceptions of the infinite parts o nature, yet it cannot know the truth of those infinite parts, being but a finite part itself, which finiteness causes errors in perceptions: wherefore it is well said, when they confess themselves, that, "The uncertainty and mistakes of human actions proceed either from the narrowness and wandering of our senses, or from the slipperiness or delusion of our memory, or from the confinement or rashness of our understanding. But," say they, "it is no wonder that our power over natural causes and effects is so slowly improved, seeing we are not only to contend with the obscurity and difficulty of the things whereon we work and think, but even the forces of our minds conspire to betray us. l\_Jill, there being the dangers in the process of human reasoning, remedies can only proceed from the real, the mechanical, the experlmental philosophy; which has this advantage over the philosophy of discourse and disputation, that, whereas that chiefly aims at the subtlety of its deductions and conclusions, without much regard to the first ground-work, which ought to be well laid on the sense and memory; so this intends the right ordering of them all, and making them serviceable to each other.'" th{ 3. These two quotations are taken from the Preface of Robert Hooke's Microgmphia, though Cavendish slightly edits the passages. CHAPTER 6 7 OBSERVATIONS UPON EXPERIMENTAL PHILOSOPHY In which discourse J do not understand, first, what they mean by our power at all over natural causes and effects. For we have no power at all r;::,,J-'î''J over natural causes and effects, but only one particular effect may have s:> tl"-7 •f\·, some power over another, which are natural actions. But neither can nat~ ~ ural causes nor effects be over-powered by man so, as if man was a degree f •" above nature, but they must be as nature is pleased to order them. For man is but a small part, and his powers are but particular actions of nature, and therefore he cannot have a supreme and absolute power. Next, I say, that sense, which is more apt to be deluded than reason, cannot be the ground of reason, no more than art can be the ground of nature. Wherefore discourse shall sooner find or trace nature's corporal I figurative motions, than deluding arts can inform the sense;,for how can a fool order his understanding by art, if nature has made it defective? Or, how can a wise man trust his senses, if either the objects be not truly presented according to their natural figure and shape, or if the senses be • defective, either through age, or sickness, or other accidents, which do alter the natural motions proper to each sense? And hence I conclude that experimental and mechanical philosophy cannot be above the speculative part, by reason most experiments have their rise from the speculative, so that the artist or mechanic is but a servant to the student. : 3 . CHAPTER3 OF MICROGRAPHY,AND OF MAGNIFYING AND MULTIPLYING GLASSES ALTHOUGH Jam not able to give a solid judgment of the art of micrography, and the several dioptrical instruments belonging thereto, by reason I have neither studied nor practiced that art. Yet of this J am confident, that this same art, with all its instruments, is not able to discover the interior natural motions of any part or creature of nature. Nay, the question is whether it can represent yet the exterior shapes and motions so exactly, as naturally they are, for art does more easily alter than inform. As for example: art makes cylinders, concave and convex glasses, and the like, which represent the figure of an object in no part exactly and truly, but very deformed and misshaped; also a glass that is flawed, cracked, or broke, or cut into the figure of lozenges, triangles, squares, or the like, will present numerous pictures of one object. Besides, there are so many alterations made by several lights, their shadows, refractions, reflections, as also several lines, points, mediums, interposing and intermixing parts, forms and positions, as the truth of an object will hardly be known; for the perception of sight, and so the rest of the senses, goes no further than the exterior parts of the object presented; and though the perception may be true, when the object is truly presented, yet when the presentation is false, the information must be false also. And it is to be observed, that art, for the most part, makes hermaphroditical, that is, mixed figures, partly artificial, and partly natural. For art may make some metal, as pewter, which is between tin and lead, as also brass, and numerous other things of mixed natures; in the like manner, may artificial glasses present objects, partly natural, and partly artificial. Nay put the case they can present the natural figure of an object, yet that natural figure may be presented in as monstrous a shape, as it may ., appear misshapen rather than natural. For example, a louse by the help of a magnifying glass, appears like a lobster, where the microscope enlarging and magnifying each part of it, makes them bigger and rounder than they naturally are.The truth is the more the figure by art is magnified, the more it appears misshapen from the natural, in so much as each joint will appear as a diseased, swelled and tumid body, ready and ripe for incision. But mistake me not; l do not say, that no glass presents the true picture of an object, but only that magnifying, multiplying, and the like optic glasses, may, and do oftentimes present falsely the picture of an exterior object. I say, the picture, because it is not the real body of the object which the glass presents, but the glass only figures or £_c1tterns ou~ the pictu~·e presented in and by the glass, and there mistakes may easily be committed in taking copies from copies. Nay, artists do confess themselves, that flies, and the like, will appear of several figures or shapes, according to the several reflections, refractions, mediums and positions of several lights:which, if so, how can they tell or judge which is the truest light, position, or medium, that does present the object naturally as it is? And if not, then an edge may very well---;em flat, and a point of a needle a globe.4 But if the edge of a knife, or a point of a needle were naturally and really so as the microscope presents them, they would never be so 4. Cavendish here is referencing the microscopic work of Robert Hooke. To see some of that work. as well as one of the illustrations that accompanied his famous work Micrograp/,ia, to ,.. . tf 8 '.,, ~· _µ,,;1 0tl: C:: ~/i,v1 \, c¡,J r· )'· ~ I. ,~.,/.\,l. } . CHAPTER ÜBSERVATIONS UPON EXPERIMENTAL PHILOSOPHY useful as they are; for, a flat or broad plain-edged knife would not cut, nor a blunt globe pierce so suddenly another body, neither would nor could they pierce without tearing and rending, if their bodies were so uneven. And if the picture of a young and beautiful lady should be drawn according to the representation of the microscope, or according to the various refraction and reflection of light through such like glasses, it would so far from being like her, as it would not be like a human face, but rather a monster, than a picture of nature. Wherefore those that invented microscopes, and such like dioptrical glasses, at first, did, in my opinion, the world more injury than benefit; for this art has intoxicated so many men's brains, and wholly employed their thoughts and bodily actions about phenomena, or the exterior figures of o"bjects, as all better arts and studies are laid aside. Nay, those that are not as earnest and active in such employments as they, are, by many of them, accounted unprofitable subjects to the commonwealth of learning. But though there be numerous books written of the wonders of these glasses, yet I cannot perceive any such, and at best, they are but superficial wonders, as I may call them. . But could experimental philosophers find out more beneficial arts than our fore-fathers had done, either for the better increase of vegetables and brute animals to nourish our bodies, or better and commodious contrivances in the art of architecture to build us houses, or forth advancement of trade and traffic to provide necessaries for us to live, or for the decrease of nice distinctions and sophistical disputes in churches, schools, and courts ofjudicature, to make men live in unity, peace, and neighborly friendship, it would not only be worth their labor, but as much praise as could be given to them. But, as boys that play with watery bubbles, or fling dust into each others' eyes, or make a hobby-horse of snow," are worthy of reproof rather than praise, for wasting their time with useful sports, so those that addict themselves to unprofitable arts spend more time than they reap benefit thereby. Nay, could they benefit men either in husbandry, architecture, or the like necessary and profitable employments. Yet before the vulgar sort would learn to understand them, the world 9 would want bread to eat, and houses to dwell in, as also clothes to keep them from the inconveniences of inconstant weather. But truly though spinsters were most experienced in their art, yet they will never be able to spin silk, thread, or wool, etc. from loose atoms; neither will weavers weave a web of light from the sun's rays; nor an architect build a house of the bubbles of water and air (unless they be poetical spinsters, weavers and architects). And if a painter should draw a louse as big as a crab, and .of that shape as the microscope presents, can anybody truly imagine that a beggar would believe it to be true? But if he did, what advantage would it be to the beggar? For it does neither instruct him how to avoid breeding them, or how to catch them, or to hinder them from biting. Again, if the painter should paint birds according to those colors the microscope presents, what advantage would it be for fowlers to take them? Truly, no fowler will be able to distinguish several birds through a microscope, neither by their shapes nor colors; they will be better discerned by those that eat their flesh, than by m.icrographers that look upon their colors and exterior figures through a magnifying glass. ln short, magnifying-glasses are like a high heel to a short leg, which if it be made too high, it is apt to make the wearer fall, and at the best, can do not more than represent exterior figures in a bigger and so in a more deformed shape and posture than naturally they are. But as for the interior forms and motions of a creature, as 1 said before, they can no more represent them than telescopes can the interior essence and nature of the sun, and what matter it consists of; for if one that never had seen milk before, should look upon it through a microscope, he would never be able to discover the interior parts of milk by that instrument, were it the best that is in the world, neither the whey, or the butter, nor the curds. Wherefore the best optic is a perfect natural eye, and a regular sensitive perception; and the best judge is reason; and the best study is rational contemplation joined with the observations of regular sense, but not deluding arts. For art is not only gross in· comparison to nature, but, for the most part, deformed and defective, and at best produces mixed or, hermaphroditical figures, that is, a third figure between nature and art. Which provides that natural reason is above artificial sense, as l may call it.Wherefore, those arts are the best and surest informers, that alter nature . least, and they the greatest deluders that alter nature most, l mean, the particular nature of each particular creature (for art is so far from altering infinite nature, that it is no more in comparison to it, than a little fly to an . which Cavendish is in many ways responding here, see the excerpt from Microçraphia included in this volume. · 5. Cavendish herself notes that she means glass tubes, atoms, and exterior figures here-a clear dig at the experimental philosophers. 3 I 11 CHAPTER 15 10 ÜBSERVATIONS UPON EXPERIMENTAL PHILOSOPHY elephant; no not so much, for there is no comparison between finite and infinite). But wise nature taking delight in variety, her parts, which are her creatures, must of necessity do so too .... CHAPTER 15 OF THE SEEDS OF VEGETABLES \ \ CHAPTERS \\ OF PORES ·,0 .., .. ,:, ~: t: ,,.··, AS I have mentioned in my former discourse, that I do verily believe all or most natural creatures have some certain kind of respiration, so do I also find it most probable, that all or most natural creatures have pores. Not empty pores, for there can be no vacuum in nature, but such passages as serve for respiration, which respiration is some kind of receiving and discharging of such matter as is proper to the nature of every creature. And thus the several ~rgans of animal creatures, are, for the most part, employed as great large pores, for nature being in perpetual motion, is always dissolving and composing, changing and ordering her self-moving parts as she pleases. But it is to be well observed, that there is a difference between perception and respiration, for perception is only an action of figuring or patterning, when as the rational and sensiti ...
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School: UCLA


Running head: PHILOSOPHY


Observations upon Experimental Philosophy (1666)
Institutional Affiliation:



Cavendish does not think humans are the most capable and perfect things in nature. The
line from the reading that indicates her position is, ‘as if a man was a degree above nature.’ In
this line, she asserts that man was faulty and not better than nature. Cavendish gives the
impression that nature is better man in numerous ways, such as survival instincts.
Technology can make men live in unity, peace and neighborly friendship. Technology
has temporarily achieved the above concept as there are better communication lines that have
made the world a global village. Peo...

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Tutor went the extra mile to help me with this essay. Citations were a bit shaky but I appreciated how well he handled APA styles and how ok he was to change them even though I didnt specify. Got a B+ which is believable and acceptable.

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