Dr. Justin Begley

Begley22 April -21 July 2018

Bio: Justin Begley is a philosophical, literary, and intellectual historian of the early modern period. He completed a DPhil on the seventeenth-century poet, playwright, and natural philosopher, Margaret Cavendish, in the Department of English at the University of Oxford. Upon successfully defending his dissertation in March 2017, Justin took up a three-month Research Fellowship at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. Now, at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Bucharest, he will turn his dissertation into a scholarly monograph. After his stint in Bucharest, he will return to a Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of History, Philosophy, Culture, and Art at the University of Helsinki.

Project Title: Margaret Cavendish: The Last Natural Philosopher

Project Description: The prolific natural philosopher, poet, and playwright, Margaret Cavendish (1623?-1673), has been the subject of considerable attention in recent years. But she has been consistently misunderstood due to a simplistic divide in scholarship between continental “rationalists” and British “empiricists”. Usually Cavendish is aligned with radical system-builders on the continent, and the most recent books on her natural philosophy are, tellingly, by the Descartes scholars David Cunning and Deborah Boyle. My project offers a very different reading: one in which the usefulness of the rationalist/empiricist dichotomy is called into question, and Cavendish is presented, rather, as a late Aristotelian. In keeping with the tradition of speculative, Aristotelian natural philosophy, she emphasised the need to balance sense and reason, sought to uncover natural causes, and continually appealed to the qualitative gradations of a primary and vital substance. Cavendish deployed the Aristotelian distinction between physics and metaphysics to preserve natural philosophy as a diffuse, hermeneutic, and interdisciplinary endeavour. Conversely, she used this same division to preserve theology as a distinct sphere of study. I thus argue—wholly against the grain of critical and historiographical convention—that Cavendish’s work is a late flowering of the intellectual tradition that had been a centrepiece of European education for nearly five hundred years.

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