Masterclass “Space, Time, and Motion in the Early Modern Period”

Bucharest, 18-22 May 2015

Invited speakers:

  • Edward Slowik (Winona State University)
  • Tzuchien Tho (ICUB, University of Bucharest)Masterclass Poster- Color-page-001

The masterclass “Space, Time, and Motion in the Early Modern Period” aims at exploring early modern discussions about the concepts of space, time, and motion from Descartes to Kant. It will combine lectures with reading groups and panel discussions, offering an intensive and motivating research environment for all the participants. The masterclass is addressed to graduate students and post-doc researchers willing to spend a week in Bucharest at the The Institute for Research in the Humanities of the University of Bucharest (IRH-UB), working on an intensive time schedule of daily morning meetings between 18 and 25 May 2015.

Reading list (selected fragments):
Descartes, Principles of Philosophy, Part II.
Leibniz, Animadversiones ad Cartesii principia philosophiæ §35-64.
Huygens, De Motu Corporum ex percussione.
Leibniz, Specimen Dynamicum (Pars I.).
Newton, De gravitatione (excerpts), the scholium on space and time from the Principia (1st edition), and the general scholium from the Principia (2nd edition). Newton, Philosophical Writings (Janiak, editor), pp. 15-35, 64-70, 86-93.

18.05. Monday (2 lectures)
09-11 Edward Slowik, Locke and Newton on Space, Time, and the Limits of Measurement.

Abstract: Locke and Newton agreed that space and time exist independently of body and motion, and also that sensible measures of space and time can only be approximate. But despite the well-known associations between the two philosophers, and their similar intellectual backgrounds, their views about space and time are grounded on significantly different versions of empiricism. Locke’s notions evolved gradually over the course of several decades from an Aristotelian to a broadly ‘absolutist’ orientation, but this development depended primarily on purely metaphysical considerations rather than scientific ones. In fact, metaphysical arguments convinced Locke both that time follows a “constant, equal, uniform course” independently of motion and that no empirical measure of time, such as the pendulum, can be known to be accurate. Locke regarded this difficulty as in principle more serious for the measurement of absolute time than absolute space. Although there is a similar epistemic asymmetry apparent in Newton’s own treatments of time vs. space, he does not evince the same degree of doubt about the pendulum measure. As will be argued, while Locke’s more traditional, sensation-based brand of empiricism encourages skepticism about the laws of nature, including the laws that Newton and others appeal to in support of pendulum isochronism, Newton prefers to allow physical theory to guide empirical judgments about the equality of spatial and temporal intervals.

11-13 Tzuchien Tho, Potentia sive actio: tensions between Leibniz’s metaphysics and dynamics.

Abstract: This paper intends to resolve the apparent conflict between Leibniz’s dynamics and his late monadic metaphysics. The problem is namely that in the world of autarkic monads, where there is no monadic interaction, physical reality would be reductively cinematic and the “subjective” phenomenal representations of corporeal motion would be separated from its purported “foundation” in the realm of dynamical forces. Now the importance of the cinematic-dynamic distinction was central to Leibniz’s dynamics project and the coherence of the dynamics requires the avoidance for a merely cinematic account of motion. Yet this appears to be exactly what the world of autarkic monads implies: a world of individuated monads without interaction that experiences the physical world as a cinema of successive internal perceptions (harmonized with the internal perceptions of other monads). Hence despite Leibniz’s explicit attempt to place his dynamics, a science of forces, within the monadic universe, by identifying primitive living force with the action of monads, the connection between living force and monads would appear to be only a loosely metaphysical one, leaving little place for the dynamical account of corporeal motion itself within this monadic world. I propose a solution by first looking at Leibniz’s analysis situs project and applying these insights to build a bridge between spatial phenomena, dynamical causes and metaphysical reality.

19.05. Tuesday (reading groups)
09-11 reading group on Descartes, Principles II (Edward Slowik)
11-13 reading group on Leibniz, Animadversiones (selected fragments) (Tzuchien Tho)

20.05. Wednesday (1 reading group, 1 lecture)
09-11 reading group on Leibniz, Specimen Dynamicum (Tzuchien Tho)
18-20 Edward Slowik, A Note on Kant as Precursor of Mach: Reconsidering Kant’s Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science from a Huygensian Frame (CELFIS Seminar).

Abstract: Over the past several decades, important studies of Kant’s pre-critical period natural philosophy (by, e.g., Watkins, Schönfeld, Stan) have demonstrated the significance of the Leibniz-Wolff school for the evolution of Kant’s thought. This presentation, which focuses on Kant’s most significant critical period tract on mechanics, the Metaphysical Foundations, will demonstrate the influence of a particular method for conceiving bodily motions and interactions that can be traced back to Huygens, namely, the center-of-mass reference frame. In opposition to a school of interpretation that often singles out Newtonian ideas as the main catalyst behind Kant’s critical period turn, an alternative historical lineage will be offered that links Kant to Huygens and Berkeley, and thus (via Popper) Mach. In short, and despite his deceptive appropriation of Newtonian “absolutist” terminology, Kant’s Metaphysical Foundations constitutes one the most highly developed examples of an Early Modern system of mechanics based on relationist concepts of space and motion, an approach that, moreover, has little in common with Newton’s own absolutist spatiotemporal ontology and methodology. Although the extent to which Kant was aware of the historical background to his use of the center-of-mass frame remains unclear, a reassessment of Kant’s place in, and influence on, the larger absolute versus relational debate is long overdue.

21.05. Thursday (reading group)
09-11 reading group on Newton on space and motion (selected fragments from De gravitatione and the Principia) (Edward Slowik)

22.05. Friday (reading group and round up discussions)
09-11 reading group on Huygens, De Motu Corporum ex percussione (Tzuchien Tho)
11-13 round up discussions.

1. Erdmann Görg (Ruhr-University of Bochum)
2. Tinca Prunea-Bretonnet (New Europe College, Bucharest)
3. Antonella Floigno (University of Urbino)
4. Oliver Istvan Toth (Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest)
5. Grigore Vida (New Europe College, Bucharest)
6. Hye Young Kim (Free University of Berlin)
7. Aida Șmalbelgher (University of Bucharest)
8. Kirsten Walsh (ICUB, University of Bucharest)
9. Daniel Tremura (University of Bucharest)
10. Madalina Giurgea (Ghent University)
11. Irina Dumitru (University of Bucharest)

Requests to register for the masterclass should be sent to, no later than 1st May. Those who are willing to participate are invited to send a letter of intention and a short CV (max. 2 pages).

3 thoughts on “Masterclass “Space, Time, and Motion in the Early Modern Period”

  1. Pingback: Curs ICUB „Space, Time, and Motion in the Early Modern Period” | Top UB

  2. Pingback: Masterclass “Space, Time, and Motion in the Early Modern Period” | My Blog

  3. Pingback: Whewell’s Gazette: Vol. #43 | Whewell's Ghost

Comments are closed.