The Senses of Touch and Movement and the Argument for Active Powers

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece by Roger Smith in HOPOS (The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science): “The Senses of Touch and Movement and the Argument for Active Powers.” Abstract:

The paper posits a relationship between the sensory modality of touch, including a sense of active movement, and early modern knowledge of active powers in nature. It seeks to appreciate the strength and appeal of knowledge built on the active-passive distinction, including that which was retrospectively labeled animist. Using statements by Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Stahl, rather than detailed new readings of texts, the paper asks whether scholars drew on phenomenal, or conscious, awareness of activity as effort encountering resistance when they reasoned about activity in the world. How were there relations and analogies between descriptions of psyche’s relation to body, of the relation of living forces to matter, of relations among material objects, of God’s relationship to His creation, and of relations involving causal agency generally? It is possible to understand what were later called animistic theories as belonging to the mainstream of the new natural philosophy, not to a residue of unscientific argument. Early modern theories of active and vital powers cannot be dismissed because they were based, in error, on mere analogy to human action. Rather, they had a central position in reasoning grounded in phenomenal awareness of action-resistance when a person is “in touch.”

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.